New Year’s Eve: Boston’s First Night Celebration

Boston’s First Night celebration of New Year’s Eve dates back to 1976, when it was decided by a small group of local artists and residents that December 31st should be celebrated in a different way, as a more family-oriented, non-alcoholic event. The mission of the celebration was and is “to broaden the public’s appreciation of the visual and performing arts through an innovative and high quality New Year’s Eve program which offers the community a shared cultural experience that is accessible and affordable to all.” From a small arts gathering on the Boston Common, the First Night celebration has become a tradition, a well-planned, non-profit citywide art festival that attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year. In 2005, First Night included 250 exhibitions and performances by local and international artists at over 50 indoor and outdoor venues throughout downtown Boston.

First Night begins at 1:00 p.m. on the 31st of December and most activities and events end at midnight or shortly thereafter on New Year’s Day. The celebration features the best in theater, film, dance, music, and the visual arts, with museums, theaters, churches, and historical sites open for the celebration. Popular attractions on First Night include the Family Festival at the Hynes Convention Center, ice sculptures on Copley Square and the Boston Common, ice skating in the parks, and two spectacular fireworks displays, at 7:00 p.m. on the Common and at midnight over Boston Harbor. The highlight of First Night is the colorful Grand Procession through the streets of downtown Boston. Led by the Mayor of the city, the parade of clowns, puppets, floats, acrobats, and bands begins shortly after sunset in front of the Hynes Convention Center, turns left on Charles, and ends at Charles and Beacon Streets. A laser display countdown marks the seconds to midnight when fireworks light up the sky over Boston Harbor for the crowds on the banks of the Charles River.

Outdoor festivities during the First Night celebration are generally free, and admission to indoor venues is included with the purchase of a First Button for $15.00. In addition, the First Button entitles the visitor to various discounts such as on parking, tickets for sporting events, theater, and concerts, commuter railway transportation, and cover charges at nightclubs. First Buttons are available at numerous retailers and locations in Boston, as well as online. Children under 4 are free.

Although the tradition of First Night celebrations was established in Boston, more than 200 similar celebrations are now held worldwide, including the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand.

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