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, 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 some 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.
New Year’s 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 celebrated on January 1 ever since.
Last year’s muted celebrations were supposed to be unique, a one-off, if you will. Around the world NYE celebrations were scaled back to prevent or mitigate the danger from the pandemic. Our leaders assured us that by NYE 2021 the coronavirus would be under control, and the traditional NYE celebrations would resume. Alas, that is definitely not the case. We are about to complete the second year of the pandemic; it is most certainly NOT under control; and, with few exceptions, NYE celebrations are most certainly NOT back to normal. Moreover, it is very possible that they never will be again. Generally, Americans are being advised to avoid large parties and stay at home, if possible.
Based on multiple news sources, such as The Guardian, the NYT, Reuters, CNN, NBC News, and Fox News, among others, below please find a selection of planned NYE celebrations:
- The world famous Times Square “Ball Drop” will take place, but it will be scaled down considerably. Attendance will be limited to 15,000 persons, a fraction of the normal amount of revelers. Every year many of us look forward to celebrating NYE and the raucous scene at TS has been an integral part of this celebration. All over the world people view it on tv. It is estimated that some 200 million Americans and approximately 1 billion persons worldwide will watch it on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices. To many of them it symbolizes NYE. In 2021 the scaled-down version will seem eerie, but it will be an improvement over 2020 when no spectators were permitted. The last two years, 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 tasked with the job of cleaning up the approximately one ton of trash left behind by the celebrants. Please seen below for more details on this celebration.
- NYC incoming mayor, Eric Adams, has cancelled the traditional inauguration party.
- Outgoing mayor, Bill De Blasio, has adroitly reversed his field regarding NYE celebrations. Back in November he had invited everyone to “come on down [to NYC to celebrate].” Now, he has announced that the city will be scaling back its official NYE party and will require attendees to be fully vaccinated and wear masks.
- As I write this, Illinois governor Jay Pritzker has not cancelled or scaled down Chicago’s traditional fireworks show, however, he cautioned Chicagoans that attend a party to maintain social distancing and wear a mask. If they are unable to do so, he warned, they should “leave.”
- San Francisco has cancelled its fireworks show.
- Atlanta has cancelled its traditional Peach Drop.
- On the other hand, Seattle and Las Vegas have not cancelled scheduled fireworks shows at the Space Needle and on the Strip, respectively. LV officials denote that the entire city is one big celebration, which, I suppose, is true.
- In Europe, which is being ravaged by Omicron, events in London, Paris and Berlin have been cancelled.
- WHO director Tedros Ghebreyesus urged people to be “cautious,” declaring that “an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled.”
- In China, with the Olympics scheduled to commence on February 20, officials are being very cautious. Multiple events have been cancelled in many cities. Travel is being restricted. Also, some cities, such as Xi’an, have been in lockdown mode for weeks. It remains to be seen whether or not the Olympics will go on as scheduled.
- In Hong Kong authorities have urged people to avoid NYE events and parties. The annual fireworks display has been cancelled, but as I write this, an open air concert is still scheduled to go on.
- In Taiwan, which for some reason is reported to be “virtually COVID-free,” events have not been cancelled.
- In South Korea a 9:00 pm curfew has been imposed on restaurants, and gatherings will be limited to four fully-vaccinated persons.
- India has imposed curfews and other restrictions on celebrations, particularly in densely-populated areas.
- Australia is the outlier. The annual fireworks show in Sydney harbor has not been cancelled. Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people to “enjoy the evening.” This is curious since the area around Sydney is in the midst of a serious COVID outbreak. Also, it was just last year that Sydney residents were warned to avoid “midnight hugs and kisses” and were required to show a special permit just to enter the Central Business District.
So, what do we do tonight?
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. They will be open and will likely present an array of entertainment and fireworks.
TV will present a plethora of entertainment options ranging from live entertainment to old movies. My personal favorite is “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” hosted by Ryan Seacrest, which will be televised for the 50th consecutive year. 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.
As mentioned above, 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. As I said, this year it will be held in a scaled-down version.
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.
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.
Additionally, pay attention to the COVID protocols. By now, we are all familiar with them. Have fun; enjoy yourself; but be smart and stay safe.
Answers to quiz questions: 1) The city’s first subway line opened in 1904. 2) Longacre Square.