Wow, another year has gone by! That was fast. As we all know, the older we get, the more time seems to speed up.
Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment.
The Pacific island nations of Kiribati (aka Christmas Island), which is nothing more than a coral atoll in the Central Pacific, and Samoa, which is the western-most of the Samoan Islands, were already the first to celebrate; American Samoa, which includes seven tiny islands and atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands, and Baker Island, which is an uninhabited atoll 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.
New Years Day has been celebrated on January 1 since 45 B. C. That year, Julius Caesar decreed that the Roman Calendar, under which the new year occurred in March, be replaced by the Julian calendar. It has been January 1 ever since.
Below please find a sampling of celebration customs in various countries:
1. In the US NYE is celebrated with parties with family and friends and other special events. For example, Chicago features a music show and fireworks over Lake Michigan; San Francisco features yoga parties and concerts; Atlanta boasts the (“Peach Drop”); Nashville has the (“Music Note Drop”); and New Orleans features live music, a “fleur-de-lis drop,” and parties centered around the French Quarter.”
However, by far the biggest and most significant celebration is in NYC. Since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” The “Ball Drop” has been held annually every year since, except for 1942 and 1943 when it was canceled due to the wartime blackout.
At precisely 11:59 pm, a specially-designated “guest,” who has been chosen in recognition of his or her community service, will push a special “red button,” which will activate a huge Waterford crystal ball. This ball, weighing some 12,000 pounds, will then begin its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 141-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball will reach the roof of the building, and huge lights will signal the start of the New Year. This year’s guest is singer Bleta “Bebe” Rexha.
The original “ball” was constructed from wood and iron and lit with 100 incandescent bulbs. Over the years, it has gone through various iterations. The current “ball” features a computerized LED lighting system.
Times Square has been the focal point of NYE celebrations in the US since 1904. That year, the first organized NYE celebration, consisting of an all-day street festival culminating in a huge fireworks display, was held there. It was reported that at midnight the celebratory noise could be heard as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, some 30 miles away.
The celebration was organized by the “New York Times” owner, Adolph Ochs, to commemorate the opening of the “Times” new headquarters located in the tiny triangle at the intersection 42nd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue. The city renamed the area Times Square in honor of the venerable publication.
[Quiz questions: 1) What other historically significant event occurred in NYC in 1904? 2) What was Times Square’s name prior to 1904? See below for the answers. ]
Two years later the City banned the fireworks display. Ochs’ response was to replace it with the “Ball Drop.” The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically.
The celebration, itself, has also evolved over the years. Due to the world we now live in, security is tighter than the proverbial “drum.” For example, regarding the police and “alphabet agencies,” it is “all hands on deck.” Police will be omnipresent. Undercover officers will be imbedded in the crowd. Even drones will be used.
This year it is estimated that as many as two million people will cram into the area to witness the “Ball Drop.” Many of them will arrive early in the day in order to secure a prime viewing spot. They will be herded into viewing sections called “pens.” Nice terminology. Additionally, for security reasons, food, drinks, waste baskets, toilet facilities, knapsacks, large bags and pocketbooks, among other items, will be prohibited. Best to arrive early, and if you have to leave for any reason, good luck returning. It is estimated that in excess of one ton of confetti will be dropped at the stroke of midnight. Thankfully, I don’t have to clean it up.
Viewers will be treated to a cornucopia of entertainment, featuring artists such as Christina Aguilera, Bastille, Snoop Dogg and Sting, among others. Many people consider this an important item on their “bucket list.” In addition, some 200 million other Americans and 1 billion persons worldwide will watch on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices.
Entertainment from various venues is also featured. The most famous and enduring entertainer was Guy Lombardo, who from 1928 to 1976 entertained from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV. After his death in 1977 other programs became prominent, most notably “Dick Clark’s “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” After his death, the mantle passed to Ryan Seacrest and others. Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks.
2. In Canada the mode of celebrations vary by region. For example, in Toronto, Niagara Falls and other areas of Ontario, there are concerts, parties, fireworks and sporting events. On the other hand, in rural Quebec some people go ice fishing. Montreal features concerts and fireworks.
3. In Mexico, families decorate their homes in various colors, each of which symbolizes a particular wish for the upcoming year. For example, yellow would symbolize a wish for a better job, green, improved finances, white, improved health, and red, general improvement in lifestyle and love. At midnight, many Mexicans eat a grape with each chime of the clock and make a wish each time. Some people bake a sweet bread with a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. Finally, some people make a list of all the bad events that occurred to them over the past year on a piece of paper and then burn the paper to symbolize a purging of all the bad luck.
4. As you might expect celebrations in England focus around Big Ben. People gather to observe fireworks and celebrate. In addition, many celebrate in pubs or at private parties.
At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times. In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.
As usual, the weather will be a significant factor. This year, rather than last year’s frigid temperatures, weathermen are predicting temperatures in the 50s, and there is a better than average chance of rain and fog. We could approach the record of 58 degrees (1965-66 and 1972-73). Viewers should plan on getting wet and, maybe, having their view of the “Ball Drop” obscured by the fog.
Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you may celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves. For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side-kick on the “Tonight Show” and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.” New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.
Answers to quiz questions: 1) The city’s first subway line opened in 1904. 2) Longacre Square.
Enjoy yourself, but don’t become a statistic.