Happy New Year’s Eve to all of our followers and friends! Today, as we all know, marks the final day of 2019 and tonight, the beginning of a new decade.
Historically, New Year’s Eve has been a day of significance around the world. It is a day of dancing, of drinking, and of celebrations going on past the stroke of midnight and is largely the only major global celebration of the passage of time which we still celebrate (Though we’ll learn all about that when the Museum of Time opens in 2020).
Around the world there are different traditions for the celebration of the new year. In Tonga and Kiribati (the first locations on earth to ring in the new year), they hold fireworks displays just like most of the world, in Denmark, a plate is broken, in Spain 12 grapes are eaten at midnight, and here in Ireland we watch for the first person to enter the door as a sign of things to come in the new year (predictably, in the Irish tradition, poor redheads are regarded as bad luck!).
However there is perhaps no city on earth better known for their December 31st celebrations than New York, and among those celebrations, the most famous is of course the Times Square Ball Drop, to which, as you may know, we in Waterford have a little link to.
The very first ball drop happened in 1907 when Adolph Ochs, then owner of the New York Times decided to heighten the celebrations in the city (and show off his brand new building at number 1 Times Square) with a memorable yearly event. That ball though, was very different to the glass ball of today. It was five feet wide, 320 kg in weight, made of wood and iron and boasted 100 light-bulbs. This first iteration of the beloved ball was hoisted up the New York Times building by a team of six men, and dropped for the very first time to ring in the new year. A version of this 1907 ball has been dropped almost every year since, though it’s gone through a number of changes over the years.
Times Square (named for the New York Times itself of course), had been a destination for New Years celebrants since 1904, when Ochs first began to hold massive fireworks displays around the building, and the establishment of the ball drop quickly became a sensation and a staple of the city’s year.
In 1920, the original ball was put into retirement and a new, fully iron ball took its place. In 1942 and ‘43 the ball went dark for the first time, owing to restrictions around lighting after the USA joined the Second World War. However, they didn’t stop the celebrations altogether, and instead observed a moment of silence for soldiers fighting and lost abroad while church bells rang nearby. The ball was re-modelled completely in 1981, this time to play up to the city’s nickname (The Big Apple), and it was coloured with red light-bulbs and included the addition of a green stem!
So the ball has changed quite a bit in its 113 years, some of these changes visual, some technological - for example, did you know that they only stopped lowering the ball by hand and started using computers in 1995? Usually though, the ball was along the same design, hundreds of light-bulbs on a metal frame, but then, 20 years ago the city of New York went in a different direction - and hired our very own Waterford Crystal!
Under Waterford Crystal, the ball changed from a small mass of light-bulbs, to a huge artistically blended collection of bright lights, vibrant colours, and expertly engraved glass panels. The dropping of the ball soon went from a New York tradition to a world-famous event that over one billion people around the world tune in to watch. The first Waterford Crystal ball dropped on the night of December 31st, 1999 and officially rang in not just the new year, but the new millennium.
The 2,688 triangular panels are made right here in Waterford before being shipped to New York and installed on the famous ball itself. Unlike the first ball, which featured 100 standard lightbulbs, the modern ball uses LEDs, - and is capable of showing over 16 million colours! Since Waterford’s involvement, the ball has also featured a yearly theme expressing a hope for the coming year. In 2002 for example, the theme was ‘A Hope for Healing’ in response to the 9/11 attack on the city.
This year’s ball is no different, and the theme for 2019/20 is ‘The Gift of Goodwill’. The ball will feature a number of related motifs on its triangular panels. Pineapples for example, feature prominently. Pineapples are potent symbols, traditionally associated with the concept of wealth (probably as a holdover from their discovery in the Americas and their subsequent return to Europe where they were a rare and expensive sensation among the upper classes), but in the American south they are also associated with hospitality, friendship and warmth.
After a year like 2019, and a decade where the world faced hostility, war, political struggles and the looming threat of the climate crisis, we need the gift of goodwill more than ever before. So Happy New Year everybody, may 2020 be prosperous and enjoyable for us all.
We’ll see you in the new year!