Ten, nine, eight, seven, six — wait! Stop the clock. Hold the ball. Stuff a sock in Ryan Seacrest’s mouth. This year, don’t sit through another predictable New Year’s Eve of descending orb, half-enthused toast of champagne, home by 12:02. Buck the same-old and embrace the something-new. To ring-a-ling-ling in the new year, we scoured North America for unconventional and utterly memorable celebrations, such as a (cruelty-free) marshmallow chick drop in Pennsylvania, a New Orleans fete with a big baby, and a First Night that really was the first. Here are 10 ideas worth a countdown.
The Peeps in Bethlehem don’t fly; they drop from the sky like a giant chick-shaped UFO. The free two-day PeepsFest bids 2012 adieu with s’mores, featuring the avian marshmallow treats as the main ingredient; a scavenger hunt-and-peck for hidden Peeps; and a chicken dance-a-thon in a disco lounge. The family-friendly event culminates on Dec. 31 with the Peeps Chick Drop: At the early-bird hour of 5:15 p.m., a 4.5-foot-tall, 85-pound lighted fowl will return to earth, followed by fireworks that go pop like your belly full of Peeps.
Grab your umbrella, because the forecast for Dec. 31 is a rainstorm of wenches, drag queens and conch shells. The Florida party town has a long history of tossing oddball items off rooftops. For example, Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street will hold its 20th annual Dropping of the Conch Shell. As a general rule, throwing sea life is not recommended, so the bar will add confetti and beads to the airborne mix. Also on Duval: Sushi, a female impersonator with no relation to the Japanese specialty, will float down in a six-foot-long red high heel at Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House Complex. And down by the water, a pirate wench will descend the mast of a tall ship at the Schooner Wharf Bar. Once the sky is clear, the party shifts to the land and into the new year. All events are free to watch.
Don’t even try to take a bite of the 350-pound MoonPie that, at the stroke of midnight, will shoot down from a 34-story high-rise. The sweet treat is made of inedible ingredients that have more in common with a lamp than with cookies and marshmallows. However, for the free event, the Chattanooga Bakery, maker of the snack food that’s traditionally thrown during Mobile’s Mardi Gras, is creating the world’s largest MoonPie. In addition, the port town will host a Mardi Gras-style parade with floats and marching bands, honoring its place in history as the first U.S. city to hold Carnival, as well as three live music stages, a laser show and fireworks. Despite the MoonPie’s star power, it will have to share the limelight with the Commodores, who will sing and sway past the Auld Lang Syne hour.
At the binational waterfalls, the Canadians party harder than their southern counterparts. The free Niagara Falls New Year’s Eve, in Queen Victoria Park, sets off 2,000 pounds of fireworks from above the falls and below them at the Skylon Tower and in Niagara Gorge. Two countries means two sets of fireworks: at 8:45 p.m. and midnight. For entertainment, rock out Canuck-style with such bands as electro-popsters Dragonette and Vancouver pop punksters Hedley. Grammy winner Nelly “I’m Like a Bird” Furtado will keep the flocks moving and grooving, as the falls provide backup percussion.
Big D NYE, the self-proclaimed “biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in the Central Time Zone,” gives 2012 a Texas-size farewell. The free event in Victory Park, which drew 35,000 revelers last year, will be loud and large, with multiple stages featuring a full roster of bands, including Dallas’s Forever the Sickest Kids and London’s Leogun. Gourmet food trucks will park along the periphery, ready to satisfy XXL appetites. At midnight, the sky will crackle with the Stream Energy Fireworks Spectacular, a fiery show released from four locations and synchronized to music by DJ Ro Parrish.
You’d need an entire year to fully experience First Night Boston, the oldest New Year’s Eve festival of arts and culture in North America (est. 1976). Unfortunately, you’ll have only a day and a night to squeeze in hundreds of music and dance performances, films, art exhibits, poetry slams, puppet shows, ice sculptures and more. For a leg up, purchase a First Night Button for $18, good for all indoor events (outdoor attractions are free), and plan wisely: Plot your route among the 35 downtown venues, for instance, such as the Magnetic Fields show at Symphony Hall and the Grand Procession down Boylston Street. At the cusp of 2013, fireworks will electrify the air over Boston Harbor.
After 23 years, the Atlanta Peach Drop, said to be the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the Southeast, is still ripe for action. About 100,000 people are expected to watch the 800-pound fiberglass-and-foam fruit plummet from a 138-foot tower at Underground Atlanta. The city’s main entertainment complex will warm up the crowd with 16 hours of free special events, such as carnival-style rides, live music by more than two dozen Georgia artists and fireworks. If all you need is love for 2013, get your scream cords ready for the Beatles tribute band, Abbey Road LIVE!, which will jam into the new year.
During the free Torchlight Parade at Taos Ski Valley, about 40 skiers will move like graceful glowworms down the black-diamond Snakedance Trail. Guests can get an eyeful of the illuminated procession from the base area of Peak 1. Once the mountain goes dark, the lights move upward, toward the sky, for the fireworks show. As the clock creeps toward 12, the party moves inside, to the Martini Tree Bar and the country swing and Americana sounds of Michael Hearne and South by Southwest.
Les bon temps roll on and on in the French Quarter, starting at 9 p.m. with live music (funk band Brass-A-Holics, soulster Mia Borders and more) at Jackson Square and continuing way past Baby New Year’s curfew. At midnight, an eight-foot-tall fleur de lis will drift down a 25-foot pole atop Jax Brewery Condominiums, followed by the firecrackin’ Symphony in the Sky show over the Mississippi River. In case you forgot why you were in New Orleans, a board sunshiny bright with 200 bulbs will proclaim the arrival of 2013. Finally, a six-foot-tall styrofoam Baby New Year (more like Teen New Year; “baby” was born in 2000) dressed in a purple-and-gold diaper and Saints football helmet will join the fete. Once Baby is tucked in, the adults will party until les bon temps call it quits.
Bright Night Providence was born out of darkness: the 2003 cancellation of the Rhode Island capital’s First Night. Local artists filled the hole with a festival that leaves little time for lamenting 2012. The packed day-long schedule features performances by more than a hundred musicians, hypnotists, dancers, storytellers, acrobats, magicians, visual artists, clowns and other entertainers. Dozens of venues will host the acts, but for the big moment, head to Kennedy Plaza, where Big Nazo (imagine mutant Muppets), the Extraordinary Rendition Band and the Banished Fools will count down en masse and put this year to bed.