New Year’s Eve Symbols

Times Square New Year's Eve BallTimes Square Ball
Susan Serra, CKD
derivative work: Sealle
[
CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I read that The Ball at Times Square “has become the world’s symbolic welcome to the New Year,” I felt surprised. I never considered that The Ball had such universal meaning. I’ll tell you what I think about when I see The Ball.

I grew up in New York City. Every year, we gathered with family in front of the TV, and watched The Ball drop at Times Square. As soon as The Ball dropped, we blew noise-makers, shook clangers, and hollered outside to welcome in the new year.

When I got older, when I saw The Ball, I thought of movies with formal gowns and tuxedos, caviar and champagne, and crystal chandeliers.

When I moved away from New York City, I surprised people when they found out that I was never at Times Square when The Ball dropped. I never knew anyone who was. I never considered being there. So, I took a friend so he could tick this item off his “Someday” list.

When we got there, I felt delighted by the clutter of the familiar noise of traffic, chatter of people, and cacophony of music. I saw stages set up around the Square — I had no idea that this was how they broadcasted from the site — maybe 30 to 50 feet high. They were temporary platforms projecting from the sides of buildings, with large rooms behind them, perhaps hospitality suites. The celebrities and their guests, crews, and other supporters had comfortable places to go; the temperature was dropping.

New York Times SquareNew York Times Square
By Terabass
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My favorite vendors had push carts that stayed at their assigned street corners from lunch time until late at night. Each one had a smokey open-top oven, and small crinkly paper bags for roasted chestnuts. The aroma was heavenly, and, each time we walked by a chestnut vendor, I breathed in as much of the smoke as I could.

Other vendors walked about. Most passed us by, hawking their wares. One put a sparkly New Year’s Eve hat on my head and got the people around me to say how great I looked. Another attached himself to my friend and me, insisting that we wanted one of his monkey puppets. He kept bringing the price down as he showed what he could do with it. It kicked, bounced, and wiggled as it danced. It laid its long, floppy, soft arms across our shoulders, and looked into our eyes like a homeless puppy. We enjoyed his show until he realized that we really weren’t going to buy one, even “for only 2 dollars 2 dollars 2 dollars”. When another couple showed interest in his show, he attached himself to them.

Finally, the time came for The Ball to drop. Everyone was cheerful as we huddled together. We were warmer now. We shouted out the countdown, and cheered when the ball hit its destination.

Celebrities were clearing from their stages. We began to move to leave. The happy chatter became tense. People pressed more tightly against me. What had been good-humored crowding became frantic urges to flee. People transformed from festive revelry to panic. The police waved their arms, shouted, and insistently told us to back up, but people behind us pushed us forward. People packed tighter around me. The crowd began pulsing forward and back. I thought of recent news stories about people being trampled by crowds, and suddenly I understood how that could happen. As the pulsing waves became larger, I looked on the ground the best I could, to make sure I wasn’t trampling anyone, but if I was, I could not move independently because we had packed together so tightly. We were the throbbing heartbeat of New York City, moving forward and back, forward and back.

At last, I noticed that we were making progress, moving closer to where I wanted to go. Then, I saw that the police had put up saw horses that restricted the width of the streets so cars wouldn’t mingle with us, but those barriers also restricted the flow of people leaving the area. We had squeezed into a bottle-neck.

Eventually, like ketchup, we glugged out of the crowd, out toward the open streets. I welcomed the freedom of the new year, and I welcome that now, as I like to welcome it at the change of each season.

You have probably heard that freedom comes with responsibility. As a member of the crowd, I was not responsible if I trampled someone. I was caught in the heartbeat of the city. Likewise, I wonder how much freedom and responsibility people have in any overwhelming crowd. Perhaps they get caught in its heartbeat.

So, The Ball was a key element of New Year’s Eve as I was growing up, and then a conspicuous spark to one particularly memorable New Year’s Eve. I wonder if you ever think of The Ball during your celebrations this time of year, and if something else is more meaningful for you.

I wonder when and how your year begins.

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16 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve Symbols

  1. For me, it’s fireworks. When I was a child, my Grandfather used to light a few rockets in his backgarden and we were always very excited. Later, in Australia, we would watch the fireworks on TV or go into town. We went into the city last night with some relatives and friends and watched the fireworks over the harbour. So beautiful and yet they’re gone so quickly, like life, really.

    Those crowds sound scary!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heidi, thanks for sharing what is meaningful for you when you celebrate the coming of the new year. I imagine that fireworks for you at New Year’s must be like fireworks for me in July – nice just after the sun sets on a hot day. I like your statement about how they compare with life. I hope to remember that this summer.

    You know, it’s funny, as I was writing this story, I wondered about my being as at ease in a crowded subway as I am on a wilderness trail. I am familiar with the idea that many people are frightened by crowds, but I am not one. I recall only being scared from being in a crowd that one time.

    Happy New Year!

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  3. Hello Grace, I guess I got so caught up in the New Year celebrations that I totally missed this post. I’m the total opposite of you, I hate crowds. I would have totally panicked in that scary situation you found yourself in. There are two symbols for me: Fireworks, which I have traditionally come to associate with New Year’s Eve. Heidi will be happy to know I look out for the Sydney Harbour Bridge fireworks on TV most years. Two: our local broadcaster, the SABC has taken to playing “Dinner for One” every year for years, when that comes on TV I know it’s New Year’s Eve. Good piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many apologies Syd for my delay in responding. I am helping my husband recover from a visit to the Emergency Room…well, from that and the illness that prompted me to take him there.

      When you write that you would have panicked in that same crowd situation, I recall one of your blog posts http://wp.me/p3uqU7-1T in which you describe a mob situation. It was not festive Times Square, but tragic Rwanda. No wonder you would have panicked.

      I had never heard of “Dinner for One”. Thanks for sharing that New Year’s Eve phenomenon. I see that it became Germany’s favorite way to ring in the New Year. “The same procedure as last year, madam?”

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          1. I’ll add my best wishes to your husband. Dinner for One, I remember that from my childhood in Germany, by the time it comes on everyone has had a few champagnes and they all think it’s hilarious, no matter how many times it’s already been seen!

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jemima for stopping by. I would like to know more about the “unique new year eve symbol” in your community and why it stopped.

      Best wishes with your mission to help the homeless.

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  4. That was an incredibly dramatic retelling of your experience. I actually found myself starting to feel the cold, smell the chestnuts, the excitement, and then it changed so quickly (as I’m sure it did for you) and I found my adrenaline starting to pump and my breathing get faster. And the way you conclude with this paragraph:

    “You have probably heard that freedom comes with responsibility. As a member of the crowd, I was not responsible if I trampled someone. I was caught in the heartbeat of the city. Likewise, I wonder how much freedom and responsibility people have in any overwhelming crowd. Perhaps they get caught in its heartbeat.”

    So powerful. I wish I could find stronger words to convey how powerful those four sentences are, but they really made me think about how much of our own actions might be a symbolic ‘caught in the crowd’ phenomenon. Bravo!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aw, thanks Jessica. I am delighted that you found yourself there, though it’s no surprise. Considering the vividness of your writing, I am not surprised that reading would also transport you.

      Your singling out that concluding paragraph makes me go “wow”, too. Where did that come from?

      I hope your visit means that you are feeling ALL better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Where did it come from? Your awesome talent!

        Sadly, I’m not all better, but my husband is home and this is me “resting”. Technically I am , ’cause I’m in bed with snuggly cat. Yay rest!

        🙂

        Like

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