Today is New Year’s Eve. It’s also Saint Sylvester’s Day, the 420th anniversary of the British East India Company’s charter and the 141st anniversary of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light demo.
But mainly, I figure, for most Americans, today is New Year’s Eve.
The day before and day of a new year is a big deal for folks around the world. Which moment marks the start of a new annual cycle varies, depending on where and who you are.
My New Year’s Eve is the day I call December 31. It’s a little after Earth’s northern hemisphere winter solstice. Many folks in east Asia start a new year a month or two after that solstice.
Hardly anyone celebrates Akitu any more, and that’s another topic.1 Almost.
There’s been a New Year’s Eve street party in New York City’s Times Square at least since December 31, 1907. That’s when The New York Times raised and dropped a big ball atop 1475 Broadway, AKA One Times Square.
The big ball drop has ended New Year’s Eve and started the new year ever since.
Most New Year’s Eves, anyway. World War II affected 1942’s and 1943’s street parties. The ball drop didn’t happen those years. Lighting a beacon over New York City for the convenience of German submarine commanders seemed inadvisable.
But the 20th century’s global war — I think of WW I and II as two phases of one conflict, and that’s yet another topic — is over now and hadn’t started in 1907.
The idea behind the 1907 ball drop was drawing attention to 1475 Broadway: headquarters of The New York Times since 1904.
Times Square was Longacre Square at the time. It was and is a stretched hourglass of pavement where Broadway and 7th Avenue overlap, between West 42nd and 47th Streets.
Shaped like a bow tie.
Named after a newspaper that started moving out of the square’s most famous building around 1912.
With a high-tech time ball mounted on a largely-unoccupied office building that’s mainly a place to put advertising billboards. Big ones. Several of them digital.2
This year’s Times Square party will be different —
“Times Square New Year’s Eve 2021”
(Times Square NYC (2020))
“Every year as the clock nears midnight on December 31, the eyes of the world turn once more to the dazzling lights and bustling energy of Times Square. Anticipation runs high….
“…Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NYE 2021 will NOT be open to the public this year — but there will be live performances, and we hope all of you will enjoy the virtual celebrations safely from the comfort of your own home….”
— But not so much for me.
I’ve never been to New York City. But I’ve dropped in on the Times Square New Year’s Eve street party rather often. Thanks to the Internet and living one time zone west of the Big Apple, I can be virtually there, and still get to sleep at a moderately reasonable hour.
I plan to virtually visit the Big Apple again this year. Even though the Waldorf Astoria Hotel has long since stopped hosting Guy Lombardo. I’ll get back to that, and how I see traditions with a lower case “t.”
Maybe, if 2021 maintains 2020’s momentum, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” will become another tradition.
“…Andra Day … will continue the New Year’s Eve tradition of singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ just before the Ball Drop. … Gloria Gaynor will be performing her classic, and very appropriate, hit ‘I Will Survive’ on New Year’s Eve, along with two other songs….”
(“Times Square New Year’s Eve 2021,” (Times Square NYC (2020))
“…I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key
If I’d known for just one second you’d be back to bother me…
“…I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive, hey, hey….”
(“I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor (1978) via lyrics.com)
“Fans angry that Cee Lo changed ‘Imagine’ lyrics”
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, MSNBC/MSN (January 1, 2012)
“The lyrics of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ are well-known to generations of fans, and when Cee Lo Green changed them while performing in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve, not everyone took it well.
“Instead of singing ‘Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too,’ Green instead sang, ‘Nothing to kill or die for, and all religion’s true.’…”
I’m not overly fond of either Lennon’s “no religion too” or Green’s “all religion’s true.”
But I think Green’s lyric is closer to the mark.
But because I am a Catholic, I must acknowledge that other religions seek and have found facets of truth. And I should treat folks who don’t believe as I do with respect, love, prudence and patience. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 839–848, 2104)
That is not, putting it mildly, easy. I live in a country where an endemic version of Christianity views Catholicism and Catholics as a threat to all that they hold dear. (December 19, 2020)
They’ve got a point, since many — most — Catholics aren’t Americans. And those of us who are Americans often have insufficiently English ancestors. And I’m drifting off-topic.
Instead of fretting over “no religion too” or “all religion’s true,” I prefer focusing on “Living life in peace.”
I’m forgetting something. Let me think. Saint Sylvester and Thomas Edison. Akitu and digital billboards. The Beatles and living life in peace. Right.
Singing “Imagine” just before a whacking great high-tech disco ball descends is a tradition. So is getting together to hear the song and making noise as the Times Square Ball goes down.
Those are traditions with a lower-case “t.”
I like some traditions.
I miss a few that have ended, like listening to Guy Lombardo on New Year’s Eve. He’s a musician and band leader who flourished from the late 1920s to the mid 1970s..3 Hearing a contemporary pop star belt out “Imagine” just isn’t the same.
But traditions don’t last forever.
That gives some folks conniptions. One of the blessings, perhaps, of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic and election politics is that “traditional Catholics” haven’t been in the spotlight.
They’re folks who, over-simplifying the situation, believe that the Catholic Church hasn’t been Catholic since the 1960s.
“In the spirit of Vatican II” nonsense didn’t help tight-collar Catholics stay calm.
I like some of my parish’s traditions, like that big evergreen we have near the altar each Christmas season. But I understand that our local and regional traditions aren’t the Church’s Tradition: a living body of knowledge and wisdom, passed along from the Apostles.
That, the Bible and Magisterium — are topics that I’ve discussed before, and will again. But not today. (March 4, 2018)
As 2020 draws to a close I find myself waxing nostalgic. Which is nothing like waxing my mustache, something I’ve never done.
Two or three more points, and I’m done. For now, that is.
First, about “I imagine we will survive.”
This has been a stressful year.
I don’t like any election year’s sound and fury, and enjoyed 2020’s even less.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t as bad as the Black Death. But it hasn’t been fun. At all.
But I think, paraphrasing that Gloria Gaynor song, we will survive. And, perhaps more important, I hope we do. And I hope my family and I do, too.
Second, I think there’s wisdom in remembering our past. Including the pleasant parts.
I remember the good old days when I watched Guy Lombardo’s final New Year’s Eve broadcasts.
Finally, here’s a bit of verse:
“…For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne….”
(“Auld Lang Syne,” Bard of Ayrshire (1788))
There’s more to say, but for the most part I’ve said it before:
- “New COVID-19 Vaccines: Goodish News, Ethical Issues”
(December 16, 2020)
- “November 3: The End of Civilization as We Know It (Again)”
(November 2, 2020)
- “Floyd, Signs and Statues”
(June 28, 2020
- “Pandemic Perspectives”
(March 31, 2020)
- “Homer, Hegel, History and Hope”
(May 12, 2018)
- New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball — NYC
- “Sony Corporation of America and News Corporation Partner to Program Digital Space in One of the World’s Most Recognized Advertising Locations – Times Square in New York City”
Press release, Sony Corporation of America (SCA) and News Corporation (June 13, 2011)
- My take on the last few centuries, briefly