Family-Friendly First Night Celebrations Usher in New Year in Communities Across Nation

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First Night events – a celebration of the arts and community – are now offered in some 200 communities across the nation. These are typically alcohol free, family-friendly celebrations that are offered free or for modest cost, and typically support community institutions and local charities. Whether you are traveling or staying  home, check out the events in your neck of the woods. Here are some of the First Night festivals:

The granddaddy of First Night is Boston, which began as a substance-free, New Year’s Eve festival of the arts in Boston in 1976 and continues the tradition this year, its 40th First Night, with events from New Year’s Eve through New Year’s Day. The celebration is free and open to all. Entertainment and specialty attractions are focused in Copley Square and the Boston Common. Many of the beloved traditions include ice sculptures and light displays. In addition, arts and musical performances take place in numerous inside and outside venues around the heart of the event from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day (see www.firstnightboston.org).

Highlights include:

Family Festival of arts performances in the Copley Square area, including ice sculptures and ice skating on Frog Pond

First Night Light and Ice Party with music and dancing

Copley Countdown and Pyrotechnics, the start of a new Boston tradition

Boston Harbor Midnight Fireworks

New Year’s Eve Salem: LAUNCH! Come ring in the New Year at Old Town Hall. The City of Salem and Salem Main Streets are teaming up to throw LAUNCH!, its third annual New Year’s Eve party, on Thursday, Dec. 31 from 4 pm to 6 pm at Old Town Hall and Derby Square. Rock the night away with local musical favorites, as well as a number of “rising star” teen musicians. There will be New Year’s Eve related activities and crafts for kids of all ages.This event is free to all and family-friendly, with a $5 suggested donation to help support Salem Main Streets’ “Holiday Happenings” initiatives. There will be an early countdown promptly at 6 pm. (salemmainstreets.org).

Other Massachusetts communities that have First Night celebrations include the towns of Beverly, Chatham, New Bedford and Worcester.

Skiing in northern Vermont? Celebrate New Year’s Eve at First Night Burlington. Marking its 33rd anniversary on December 31, First Night Burlington will claims to be the longest running and – by virtue of the number of venues, performances, activities featured –the largest New Year’s Eve celebration of its kind in the United States. This year’s edition of the fabled, family-friendly festival will feature more than 100 performances and activities in 17 different venues throughout downtown Burlington. The festivities kick off at 10 am, when Face Painting for kids of all ages gets under way at the Edmunds School. The celebration wraps up 14 hours later when the traditional Midnight Fireworks ring in the New Year with a bang and a blaze of color. In between, festival-goers will be treated to a wide array of performances including folk, rock, jazz, and classical music – plus circus arts, theater, dance, comedy, and spoken word – all showcasing hundreds of performing artists from throughout Vermont and the Northeast. Buttons cost $15 for adults  if purchased in advance ($20 on the day), $10/students, $5 for kids 3-12. Several events require tickets for admission, in addition to the buttons. Ticketed performances – all on the Flynn MainStage – include Circus Smirkus (11:30 am and 1 pm); Ray Vega & Tales From The Boogie Down (5 pm); Burlington Taiko (7 pm); and Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band (10 pm). (Info at 802-863-6005, firstnightburlington.com).

(For a list of First Night events in New England, see: www.travel-new-england.com/blog/2014/12/01/new-years-eve-first-night-celebrations-2015-in-new-england/)

December 31, 2015 marks the 24th year for New Jersey’s biggest and brightest New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts, taking place in Morristown. Some 200 artists performing in more than 85 events in more than 24 venues, representing dance, theater, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s events. More than half the program features new artists, many of whom have performed at top venues (White House, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden). Pay one price ($17.50-$25) to experience everything from classical chamber music to the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo; there is shuttle transportation to take you from venue to venue. Tickets are available online or by calling 973-455-0708,  http://firstnightmorris.com/

First Night Alexandria is a celebration of the new year through the performing arts. Coffee shops, retail stores, hotels, museums and public buildings are turned into performance venues to showcase incredible local and regional talent. Recent performers at First Night Alexandria include clowns, face painters and magicians for children to a world-class Scottish fiddler, a Grammy-nominated rock and roll guitarist and a classical cellist for adults. For a small fee for adults (children 12 and under are free), you have access to all the entertainment – more than 100 performances, all evening! Everything is within easy walking distances. And we celebrate the dawning of a new year at midnight with a spectacular fireworks display on the Potomac River at the foot of King Street (www.firstnightalexandria.org/)

First Night in Delray Beach, Florida offers family-friendly activities in downtown. Events take place around Old School Square Park, the 100 ft. Christmas Tree and the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Fireworks launch from the Tennis Center at 9 pm and again at midnight. Purchase First Night wristbands which provide unlimited access to various activities! Wristbands are $10 in advance and $15 on December 31 (available for purchase at City Hall, the Public Library and the Xmas Tree Gift Shop). Children under 3 are admitted to First Night free. Activities will run 5pm-12am (www.visitdelraybeach.org/firstnight).

116th Annual SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade

In Philadelphia count down to the New Year with SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront, featuring two spectacular shows at 6 p.m. and midnight. Then, on New Year’s Day, join thousands on the streets of Philadelphia for the annual SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade, a 116-year-old tradition and unforgettable celebration.

The SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade, starting at 9 am, with the Fancy Brigade Finale from noon to 5 pm, features 10,000 men and women dressed in colorfully lavish costumes as they twirl, sashay, pirouette and strut up one of the city’s main streets. An unforgettably wild ritual, the parade and subsequent performances are all family-friendly and fun for everyone. See more at www.visitphilly.com/holidays-in-philadelphia/new-years-in-philadelphia.

Where to Watch: The 116th annual SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade parade will begin at City Hall in 2016 with judging taking place at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. It then goes south on Broad Street to its end point at Washington Avenue. Parade goers can watch the festivities from an enhanced viewing area at The Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts, featuring a DJ, food trucks and other amenities. Once the Fancy Brigades finish the entire route, they head to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their performances.

Those who want a sneak peek of what’s to come can catch the Mummers doing last-minute practices as they line up on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 16th and 22nd Streets before they head to the judging stand. Here, spectators can also meet the performers, get a close-up look at the spectacular costumes and even snap photos with the costumed marchers.

Tickets for the 2016 Mummersfest, Fancy Brigade Finale Shows and Mummers Parade are available for purchase at the Independence Visitor Center located at 6th and Market Streets. Tickets to both Fancy Brigade Finales can be purchased online at comcasttix.com in person at the Independence Visitor Center.

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