Celebrate First Night On New Years - My Family Travels

Archaeologists believe the Babylonians were the first civilization to celebrate “First Night” or the New Year. They planned an 11-day holiday tied to the vernal (spring) equinox starting with a first-night festivity. Sometime during the Roman era, New Year’s was set as January 1st. This custom that was adopted in the Middle Ages by many Western countries. For millions who equate New Year’s Eve with a party, however, that date has meant coping with cold weather.

Lots of family fun on First Night First Day in Ocean City, New Jersey!

That’s why beaches like Cancun, Miami Beach, and Key West are among the Top 10 most searched-for destinations during the New Year’s period.  Cancun tops the list because its famous beach parties occur year round at huge clubs. More traditionally, the Mexican New Year is a wonderful opportunity to boost your fortune by eating 12 grapes at midnight: each grape carries its own wish for the year ahead.

In Miami Beach, there are dozens of first night parties on land and offshore, plus the annual fireworks show at Bayfront Park at midnight, when a 35-foot neon orange descends from the facade of the Intercontinental Hotel.

The First of the First Nights

Fireworks over Aspen Mountain, Colorado
Holiday festivities include fireworks over Aspen Mountain, Colorado. Photo c.Aspen Chamber Resort Asociation

If that sounds like too much partying, there is a way to save money on babysitters and enjoy ringing in the New Year with the whole family: community-organized First Night festivals, a public arts project that began in Boston.

What’s the big deal? Typically, these corporate sponsored, day-long festivals of music, dance, puppetry, and other arts are staged in different theaters or auditoriums, public spaces, and other venues for little or no cost. Kids activities rule the daylight, and arts events occupy the first night fun. Although many events are alcohol-free, partying and fireworks usually ring in the New Year.

First Night Missoula is typcial of many towns, celebrating the turn of the year with live music, arts exhibits, and free entry to the town carousel and Currents water park from noon to midnight. A free shuttle connects the University of Montana to the downtown festivities, which also inlude ice skating, movies and dancing. Here are some other First Nights we follow annually.

Ocean City, New Jersey — a star of the Jersey Shore — has celebrated New Year’s Eve for more than three decades. Look for a day full of activities leading up to fireworks at midnight. For 2023-24, First Night First Day offers more than 70 opportunities to catch 35 different shows and activities at 20 venues throughout town. The fun continues on New Year’s Day with a 5-kilometer run on the boardwalk and the wildly popular First Plunge in the Atlantic Ocean.

Beachy Florida First Nights for New Years Eve

Sushi stars in the New Year's Eve Red Shoe Drop in Key West.
Gary Marion, dressed as “Sushi,” stars in the Red Shoe Drop over Duval Street in Key West. Photo c. Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO

It wouldn’t be Key West without some New Year’s Eve blowout. Of course, there are several options, some more naughty than many families would appreciate. On Duvall Street, a giant conch shell “drops” from the rooftop of Sloppy Joe’s Bar at midnight. Visit the historic seaport, where a pirate wench descends the mast of the tall ship America. Or, cheer for the renowned drag queen, Sushi, during her High Heel Shoe Drop over Duvall Street. Families should start their NYE fun at the nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square, which begins at the family-friendly hour of 3:30pm winter.

Be at Old School Square on New Year’s Eve 2023 in Delray Beach, Florida to admire the 100 foot Christmas Tree! Guests enjoy ice-skating, Putt’n Around Mini Golf & Carousel, live music and much more. The event is free, but activities are a nominal fee. Be sure to make time for fireworks bursting out at 9pm, making this the Palm Beaches’ largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve program.

The whole family can don a glittery T-shirt for the St. Petersburg, Florida First Night with Art in the Park at North Straub Park. Family-oriented festivities will take place with live music, sing-alongs, dance performances, and art in unusual places. The fun runs 4pm-8pm, so check on their VIP family of four admission packages. Check out three other Florida Beach towns that are waiting to share New Year’s Eve.

Find great Florida hotel and rental car deals for your First Night family vacation with Priceline.

Big City First Nights in Boston, San Francisco, More

Franklin Square Electrical Spectacle light show has a New Year's party just for families.
Philadelphia’s Franklin Square hosts the free Electrical Spectacle light show over the holidays, with a New Year’s party just for families. photo c. John Fusco, Historic Philadelphia

This year, the flagship First Night Day Boston again rings in the first day of the new year. On December 31st, Boston attractions include puppet shows, dance events, children’s theatre, live music, poetry slams, holiday lights, skating and ice sculptors at work. From art gallery tours to parades, there’s activity from 11am on until family-oriented fireworks begin at 7pm over Boston Common. At 11:30pm there’s an even bigger Countdown to Copley fireworks illuminating the sky over Copley Square.

Fireworks by the Bay are staged just before midnight in San Francisco. Look for barges located 1,000 feet off Pier 14 near both the Ferry Building and the SF Bay Bridge. The best land viewing is the wide sidewalk that runs on both sides of The Embarcadero; the best sea views are from one of the many cruises that ply the Bay waiting for midnight.

Looking for more amazing San Francisco attractions and shows for New Years?

Great Cities for Unofficial First Night Celebrations

While not an official First Night event, the free Electrical Spectacle light show in Franklin Square, Philadelphia hosts special family activities on New Year’s Eve. Watch 75,000 lights shimmer in the chill winds off the Delaware River and holiday songs play (every half hour 4:30-8:30pm.) Stick around and you can catch New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront, viewable from the Square.

Denver is typical of many cities that have picked up the First Night vibe and made it their own. They’re putting on a family-friendly fireworks show on New Year’s Eve at 9pm, followed by the traditional midnight extravaganza, both over the 16th Street Mall. Downtown Denver‘s mile-long pedestrian promenade boasts nearly 30 outdoor cafes, many of which will be serving that night. Other family activities include the “Noon Year’s Eve” hosted by the Children’s Museum of Denver at the Butterfly Pavilion. Balls will drop at 10am, noon and 2pm so kids can practice their countdown and throw confetti around.

From Sublime to Ridiculous Ways to Ring in the New Year

Peep at New Year
A 400-pound Peeps chick rings in the new year in Bethlehem, PA. photo c. Jeff Fusco/AP Images for Just Born Quality Confections

In addition to Pensacola, other destinations have their own interpretation of Times Square’s Ball Drop. Let’s say they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. For New Yorkers, the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is actually a 12-foot geodesic sphere weighing 11,875 pounds. Admire the 2,668 Waterford crystals powered by 32,256 LEDs which produce a stunning kaleidoscope effect. Want to fit in great New York City tours, museums and more attractions during your New Year’s visit?

Residents in Mobile, Alabama await the annual countdown with a tradition that began more than a decade ago. The “MoonPie Over Mobile” is a 600-pound, illuminated MoonPie. Yes! It descends from a 34-story building to signal the start of the new year. Watch for laser lights illuminating downtown, and the official cutting of a moonpie, the favored treat of the Mardi Gras season that this town has adopted as its symbol. Chattanooga Bakery owns the commercial MoonPie company. They bake the world’s largest edible one each year for the crowd of 50,000 waiting for a bite. Children’s activities take place before 8pm.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania may spell “manger” to some and “steel” to others, but at New Year’s all you hear is Peeps. The famed chick-shaped marshmallow treat is made in Bethlehem. Celebrate this happy fact from 3pm-6pm on December 30 and 31 at Peepsfest. Look for live music, arts n’ crafts, and the levitation of the 4’9″-tall, 400-pound Peeps Chick Drop that will come down December 31.

More New Year’s Fun

For those who want to party like it’s 1999, sites like New Years.com can steer you to the nearest commercial party. Let us know what you end up doing in the Comments section below.

Happy New Year!

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