A Long December (Really)

Every December 31, cultures which use the Gregorian calendar celebrate New Years Eve, which is, essentially, the day and night before the beginning of the near calendar year, which takes place at exactly midnight on the 31st, which begins New Years Day.

Some cultures keep the tradition of wild partying and fireworks while others make it a night of prayer. The former tend to wear silly hats and/or costumes and make a lot of noise as the new year approaches, while the latter might attend services at their church or synagogue, praying for a prosperous or peaceful new year.

In the United States, virtually every locality has some sort of nighttime celebration, and many have gatherings where celebrants count down the moments to midnight. The biggest celebration is in New York City, in Times Square, where tens of thousands of people come to listen to music and watch the huge crystal ball drop slowly to the ground, counting down the seconds in unison as it descends, arriving at the ground at precisely midnight, whereupon celebrants kiss those they are with. It is traditional to play the Scottish song, "Auld Lang Syne," which was written by Robert Burns. The title phrase is strictly translated as "old long since," but is loosely translated as "the good old days," and the song urges people to look forward with hope to the coming year. The loud noises, including firecrackers and air horns, as well as vocal yelling and whooping, is a carryover from the days when noise was thought to scare off evil spirits.

Over the years, many cities had street parties which ended in vandalism and violence, and in 1976, the city of Boston became the first city in the United States to institute a "First Night" celebration, which was an effort to replace the unorganized wild revelry with musical performances and non-alcoholic beverages.

Several towns and cities have cancelled their First Night parties which would ring in the year 2011, due to the economic downturn, but the vast majority of them will go on!

Boston's First Night celebration is held at the Hynes Convention Center and features musicians and improv comedians as well as puppet shows, ice sculpture exhibits, and a dance troupe. Documentaries including one about Condoleezza Rice and one about Harry Nilsson will play inside. There is also an annual fireworks show as well as a laser light show.

St. Petersburg, Florida holds its 17th annual First Night St. Pete, with all venues being held within walking distance of downtown, along the waterfront.

Hartford, Connecticut features fireworks which can be seen from anywhere in the city and has venues including the public library, the Old State House, and city hall.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the alcohol-free celebration will be held at the Northwest Arkansas Mall, while Monterey, California will host First Night with 70 performances at 25 venues in its historic downtown area.

Dover, Delaware has magicians, musicians, and the annual crown decorating contest as well as the traditional tarot readings and lantern tours through the city.

Lewis and Clark Community College puts on First Night River Bend in Godfrey, Illinois, which features the one-ring circus, Circus Flora with the Flying Wallendas. Also performing are a jazz quartet, a magician, and the grand finale is held in the Commons Courtyard.

Port Huron, Michigan hosts their party all over their downtown area, with events including Chinese acrobats, a lighted bus tour, bluegrass music, and the Enchanted Princess Ball.

Missoula, Montana is celebrating with dance, poetry reading, music, comedy, and food, as are Worcester, Massachusetts, and the community of Norwich, Connecticut.

New Jersey has several First Night celebrations, including the one in Ocean City, which features activities beginning at 4:00, including a troupe of Japanese drummers, jugglers, and gospel music as well as historic films and games including miniature golf. Meanwhile, the city of Montclair features performances by Phoebe Snow and Fantasy on Ice, featuring figure skating champion Rosie Tovi. Not to be outdone, the city of Haddonfield puts on their gala with numerous events, including actor Keith Henley, who performs a re-enactment the journey of slave Henry "Box" Brown who had himself mailed to Philadelphia from Virginia in 1849. Also featured are Irish singers, a jazz band from Brazil, and the PBS "Kid Show" stars, the Paisley Pickles are all scheduled to entertain.

Tacoma, Washington offers more than just entertainers, food, and films. The celebration is kicked off by the "Last Mile at First Night," is run, beginning at 6:15. Participants wear bunny ears and are encouraged to wear costumes and decorated hats and shoes.

Other cities across the United States which celebrate First Night include:

Fullerton, California
Fort Collins, Colorado
Danbury, Connecticut
Wilmington, Delaware
Springfield, Illinois
Council Bluffs, Iowa
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Port Huron, New York
St. Louis, Missouri
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Raleigh, North Carolina
Youngstown, Ohio
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Knoxville, Tennessee
Spokane, Washington

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