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.
As you know, 2020 has been a unique year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives have been changed radically in ways we could not possibly have imagined at this time last year. Some of these changes will likely be temporary; others will probably be irreversible.
Consequently, New Year’s Eve celebrations will be very different this year. For example, take the world famous ball drop at Times Square. The NY Times reported that the ball drop will still take place at midnight, but there will be no crowds at Times Square (except for a few first-responders). That will seem eerie, but no more strange than many other events that have been altered or cancelled during this year. In 2020 much of what we have always thought of as normal has been replaced by strange and unique, a so-called “new normal.” One group of people who will probably be pleased by the lack of crowds will be the sanitation workers who are normally tasked with the job of cleaning up the approximately one ton of trash left behind by the celebrants.
So, what do we do tonight? Every year many of us look forward to celebrating NYE. The raucous scene at TS has been an integral part of this celebration. All over the world people view it on tv. To many of them it symbolizes NYE.
The good news is, according to multiple media sources, the NYE celebration will go on without the live crowd. It is estimated that some 200 million Americans and approximately 1 billion persons worldwide will watch on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices.
- Normally we are treated to live entertainment from various venues around the world. I’m not sure what will be available this year. Some of you may recall, with nostalgia, the most famous and enduring NYE entertainer of them all, Guy Lombardo. From 1928 until his death in 1977 he entertained us from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV.
- Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks. Disneyland is open this year, and will likely present a modified show adhering to COVID social distancing guidelines. Disneyworld is closed, a victim of CA’s strict, and some would say ill-advised and excessive, lockdown policies.
- At Times Square there will be some live entertainment featuring the “Heroes of 2020” honoring first responders and “essential” workers. I think we can all agree that they were the real heroes of 2020 (and Time should have honored them as its “Person(s) of the Year”).
- The “One Times Square” website has announced it will be offering what it calls a “virtual celebration” featuring various celebrities that viewers can live-stream.
- In addition, there will be Facebook Watch’s “Peace Out 2020” featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anne Hathaway and others.
- Of course, there is the perennial standby, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” which will be televised for the 49th consecutive year. It will feature Ryan Seacrest, Lucy Hall, Billy Porter, Jennifer Lopez, Ciara and others. Entertainment from various venues will likely be featured.
- If none of those offerings “floats your boat” you can escape with the Honeymooners marathon, featuring Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph, which is offered every year but never gets stale.
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, will be 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 normal celebration customs in various countries. As I said, these will likely be curtailed or, perhaps, cancelled outright this year due to the coronavirus. However, hopefully, they will be reinstated prospectively once we have eliminated the virus as a major health threat.
- Elsewhere in the US NYE is traditionally 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.” (Authorities of the city of Nashville have announced that the city’s celebration will be cancelled this year out of respect for those killed and injured in the Christmas-Day bombing.) The other celebrations will likely be muted somewhat this year depending on local COVID restrictions and personal choice.
However, by far the biggest and most significant celebration, as mentioned above, 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. As I said, this year it will be held but without the customary raucous crowd.
At precisely at 6:00 pm a huge Waterford crystal ball will be raised to the top of the pole at One Times Square At 11:59 pm, the ball will be activated by the push of a special button. 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 iteration is a geodesic sphere. It is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds. It contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. This triangular design enables it to support extremely heavy loads. The ball will be illuminated by 32,256 light-emitting diodes (aka LEDs) of various colors – red, white, blue and green. It will look gorgeous on tv. It will 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.
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 of 42nd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue. The city renamed the area Times Square in honor of the venerable publication.
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.
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. This year, depending on local guidelines, some of these will likely be severely restricted or cancelled altogether.
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. I would imagine that white will be very popular this year. 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. In view of the mutated strain of the virus that recently surfaced in the UK these activities will almost certainly be severely curtailed or cancelled
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 older 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.
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.