"New Years is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody.”
– Mark Twain
As the confetti in Time Square falls at the stroke of midnight each year, the New York winter winds carry a stream of insanity throughout the world. It brings with it a storm of vows, pledges, hugs and kisses, and even fights as people get caught in the chase on New Years Eve. According to the New York Post, there are more guns fired New Year's Eve than on any other holiday. Over 100 million people go to parties and 200 million watch events on TV. More alcohol is consumed on New Year's Eve and more people wake up hung over than any other holiday. And 3 percent of the party-goers never make it home, while one in 12 forget or regret what they even did New Year's Eve.
Why do people do so much insane celebrating each New Year? What is the significance of this? Who started this tradition? And what is the hoopla about Jan. 1? After all, it’s just another day on the Gregorian calendar that the world has used since 1582. What is so important about it to so many people around the globe when it is just another day they waste closer to the end of time?
Archeologists date the history of New Year’s festivities back 4,000 years. Babylonians celebrated the new year when the spring harvest was in full bloom. This was a time they reaffirmed loyalty to the king; renewed promises with their gods, and loudly praised them for the plentiful graces that had been given to them. Since 1755, the Chinese hung red Dui Lian lanterns in front of their homes and launched fireworks to keep them safe from a mythical sea monster that they called “The Year.”
On New Year's, ancient Romans reaffirmed loyalty to the state while judges and magistrates had their positions reaffirmed. Their citizens made ceremonial sacrifices and worshiped their gods on New Year's Day. They expressed their loyalty to them with feasts and loud praises and offered up lavish gifts to them. They wanted to make certain the gods heard how indebted they were to them. Like the Chinese, they understood:
“Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.”
– Gladys B. Stern
People around the globe have celebrated the new year with exotic traditions for centuries. Swedes watch a Donald Duck cartoon while Ecuadorians burn a scarecrow. In Denmark, if you find a pile of broken plates at your door someone wished you good luck. Spaniards gulp down twelve grapes at the strike of midnight. At Peruvian festivals, people begin bare-knuckle brawling when their clocks chime 12. The Japanese rings 108 bells to banish all of their sins. In Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil, those who desire a lover wear red underwear. Those who want more money instead opt for yellow ones.
We’re all familiar with the New York Times Square ball drop. Over a million people gather to watch the Waterford Crystal ball descend at midnight, which lasts one minute. It is the most viewed event in the world on New Year's Eve. But it’s not the only thing dropped in NY. A gigantic lighted ukulele, dropped by Sonic Ukulele, has been a tradition for two decades. In Niagara Falls, N.Y., a 10 foot Gibson Guitar is dropped from a 120-foot scaffold at the stroke of midnight at the Hard Rock Café. In White Plains, N.Y., a ball drops from a crane on Main Street at midnight. In Buffalo, N.Y., a new Ford Edge car is dropped at midnight.
“That’s what I love about New York, its many great traditions.”
– Hillary Clinton
Americans have a fascination with dropping things to celebrate the New Year. And you don’t have to be in New York to see something drop this year. Pennsylvania drops the funkiest things in the U.S. The Peeps Company in Bethlehem drops a 400 pound illuminated Peep to mark each New Year. Their neighbors in Mechanicsburg aren’t as creative and drop “wrenches” at the firehouse in honor of their name. If you reside in Lebanon, you can watch a gargantuan chunk of bologna tumble to the ground in memory of the Bologna Ranger. Lebanon business development manger John Tice said, “Bologna is our claim to fame in Lebanon. We’re the bologna capital of the world – and proud of it!”
The annual dropping of the video-game figure Pac Man takes place at the Timeline Arcade with fireworks, in Hanover. Countdown in Lancaster starts when the town’s red roses, a symbol of the English War of the Roses, ascends at Binns Park. In Dillsburg, named for its first resident Matt Dill, a pickle is dropped each year.
In Pennsylvania, a few things also “go up” each New Year's. In Pittsburgh, a huge sphere made of recycled materials in the name of green energy ascends at midnight. In Hershey, a giant “Kiss” is hoisted to the delight of the children.
"Youth is when you're allowed to stay up late on New Year's Eve. Middle age is when you're forced to."
– Bill Vaughn)
Floridians seems destined to catch up with their friends in the North. In Key West at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, they drop a six-foot Queen Conch Shell 20 feet to the top of the bar. Not to be outdone, at the 801 Saloon, a local LGBT bar, each year a ruby slipper with a drag queen inside is dropped. Miami is the home of dropping a 35-foot neon sign dubbed Mr. Neon, the shape of an orange with sunglasses, atop the Hotel Intercontinental. A basketball drop is held at the American Airlines Arena. On Main Street in Sarasota, a huge glowing pineapple plummets from a rooftop to ring in the New Year.
Dropping is contagious in the South. Atlanta, the capital of the Peach State, hosts their Peach Drop, which is similar to the Times Square event. It takes 58 seconds for the peach to descend a 138-foot tower of lights to its resting place. Cornelia hosts a “Red Apple Drop” as a tribute to their growers. In Duluth, a disco ball called the Soaring Spirit Ball is dropped. Gainesville hosts the "Chuck the Chicken Drop” to benefit the Humane Society of Northern Georgia. Macon drops a lighted ball of metal cherry blossoms adorned with pink lights to honor the Cherry Blossom Festival.
There are a numerous “oddball object droppings” around the U.S. each New Year's Eve. The last semi-official count was 239, which included everything from the Boise, Idaho Potato Drop event to Seaside Heights, New Jersey’s MTV Snooki Ball drop. Some events use a farcical ball to mimic the Times Square drop, but many use objects that endear their past or are a caricature of their states. Regardless of objects, the U.S. dubiously leads all other countries in the science of object dropping.
“New Years Eve gives us a few hours to do things we resolve not to do the next year.”
– Leo Allen
The Gong Show’s Unknown Comic joked; “New Year's Eve is a once a year free pass to act like a fool.” And that’s what the New Year's Eve funky object dropping is about. What began in New York as a one-time whim in 1907 when New York Times owner Adolph Ochs celebrated the opening of his new headquarters by dropping a primitive lighted ball from its roof is now an American tradition.
Although these copious object drops are of no real significance, they attract people who might be out partying, drinking, carousing or acting like fools. According to Psychology Today, more people go home with strangers and do things they’d never do any other night of the year on New Year's Eve. Some wake up in jail or next to people they’ve never met. These events might seem trivial, but our New Year's Eve ball drops give many people a safe and fun place to celebrate on New Year's Eve.
Whatever we do New Year's, always remember:
“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”
– Bill Vaughn
Happy New Year!