Last word on First Night

Written by

Andrew Millar


December 28, 2007

Has anyone actually had a good time on New Year’s Eve?

It is one of those nights that is full of expectation but never really delivers on the promise.

But I have had one occasion where I had a brilliant time. It was in Boston five years ago and it’s an idea that Adelaide could well pick up on and make successful. We could do it and do it well because we are a big enough city to make it work and small enough to care.

The event was in Boston and it was called ‘First Night’.

First Night is an outdoor artistic and cultural celebration on New Year’s Eve, taking place from afternoon until midnight. Since it happens on New Year’s Eve, First Night celebrations are actually held on the last night of the old year. First Night celebrates a community’s local culture, often featuring music, dance, comedy, art, and always has plenty of food, fireworks, and ice sculptures.

Most entertainment is freely available outside, but admission to indoor events requires the simple purchase of a First Night button, where profits support the celebration as a whole. The event is generally alcohol free.

First Night began in Boston in 1976 by a small group of artists, and its popularity quickly made it a recurring event. Soon other surrounding communities started their own First Night celebrations. In 1993, First Night International became a non-profit organization dedicated to helping other cities set up their own celebrations. It has since spread to cities all over the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand. (Thanks Wikipedia for the explanation. Hey, I’m on holidays!)

It works like this; once you’ve purchased a badge, from 3pm onwards you have access to small venues across Boston each hosting 20 minute events that start on the hour and half hour. The badge gives you entry.

During the next 4 to 5 hours, you can wander between tin whistle or tap dancing classes; hear a Gregorian chant or a Jazz Band. You can listen to a poetry reading or learn to write your own. You could take a guided tour of an art gallery or paint a picture yourself.

When we attended, there were heaps of activities for families and children. They could make a mask, banner or a flag in supervised workshops. And when they were done, they were proudly displayed in a march that snaked through the foggy city and ended up on Boston Common.

This march served to join the day’s activities to the events of the evening. We stood and watched, sipping hot chocolate and nibbling on plum cake bought from a street stall that supported a local mission.

With everyone assembled on the Common, there were bands, performers and orchestras, ice sculptures (we could substitute sand) and skating. Plus two of the biggest fireworks displays I have ever heard – mainly because the fog was so thick we could only hear the crack of the launcher and the bounce of sound from Beacon Hill and see nothing but glowing patches in the clouds that crackled occasionally.

That year we celebrated New Year’s Eve with 1.5 million people.

Sadly this event has been in decline since September 11. People have been spooked away from crowded events such as this.

But there is no reason why Adelaide couldn’t embrace such an event in the parklands… Oh, there’s the problem…. I forgot, the parklands…, look but don’t touch.

Just forget I made the suggestion. I won’t mention it again….