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10 offbeat things to see on New Year’s that don’t involve Times Square

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Anyone can count down from 10 and drop a ball, even if a certain nearly 6-ton, Waterford Crystal-covered sphere gets all the glory.

Ball-drops to mark the time started as a maritime navigational tool in the 1800s — a way for sailors to make sure their timepieces were accurate. New York City turned the concept into a way to welcome Jan. 1 in grand public style, hosting its first New Year’s Eve ball drop in 1907. That, in turn, has morphed into a way for communities to get a little creative when the new year comes around.

Whether it’s corporate pride (see: Hershey, Pa.'s giant Hershey’s Kiss Drop) or just an obvious association (of course Miami, home of the Orange Bowl, raises a sunglasses-wearing orange), cities across the United States have taken the New Year’s Eve ball and run with it. These are some of the quirkiest, along with a few international non-ball-drop options.

Meet midnight with a high heel that’s carrying a drag queen named Sushi in Key West, Fla.

Gary Marion, attired as drag queen Sushi, hangs in an oversize replica of a women's red high heel over Duval Street. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Key West is known for its revelry, so it should come as no surprise that the island at the southernmost tip of Florida has plenty of parties to choose from. Perhaps the most famous is the six-foot, red-high-heeled Shoe Drop — carrying a dressed-to-the-nines drag performer named Sushi — at the Bourbon Street Pub, which is frequently shown on CNN. Other drops around town include a giant conch shell from the roof of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a pirate wench from the mast of a ship in the Key West Historic Seaport, and a wedge of Key lime into an oversize margarita glass at Ocean Key Resort’s Sunset Pier.

Bid farewell to 2019 with Bob the Buzzard in Perry, Ga.

(City of Perry)

When residents and the former mayor of Perry got together several years ago to think of a way to celebrate the new year with a “vibrant and original experience,” they settled on a familiar creature: the buzzard. According to Haley Bryant, the city’s Main Street coordinator, buzzards migrate to Perry every year during the winter. “We decided it would be a unique opportunity to celebrate them,” she said in an email. Bob the Buzzard, about four feet tall, drops from a roughly 20-foot tower at an event that attracts about 2,500 people a year. For 2020, the seventh “Buzzard Drop,” a “kiddie countdown” with confetti cannons will take place at 8 p.m.

Count down with a giant crab in Easton, Md.

(Ted Mueller Photography/Discover Easton)

First Night Talbot, an alcohol-free family event, includes music performances, fire-juggling, contests and hot cocoa. But there are two main events at the Easton, Md., celebration, and they both involve a giant crab made of preserved papier-mâché stretched over a wire frame. The first is a bagpiper-led lowering of the crab that marks “midnight in the Mid-Atlantic” at 9 — perfect for those with early bedtimes. At 11:45, a parade of sea creatures makes way for the actual midnight crab drop.

March into the new year with an 85-pound wrench in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

(Mechanicsburg's New Year's Eve Wrench Drop)

A giant wrench made of galvanized sheet metal seems like the perfect symbol for a town created by mechanics nearly 200 years ago. The first wrench drop, an Eagle Scout project, was held in 2003, and now it typically attracts 1,500 to 3,000 people to the front of the Washington Fire Company if the weather cooperates. This year, six motels around the area are offering visitors reduced rates, according to Darrell Westby, president of the board for the event.

Welcome 2020 with Wylie the Walleye in Port Clinton, Ohio

For more than 20 years, Wylie the Walleye has been the face of New Year’s Eve in Port Clinton, the Walleye Capital of the World. This year’s version, called Wylie Jr., is 20 feet long and 600 pounds. For the second year in a row, the city is hosting a “bar swim” with heated buses stopping at local establishments. That wraps up at 11:30, just in time for Wylie’s descent. There’s also an earlier “minnow drop” party, as well as a giant dice game and rounds of rock-paper-scissors.

Dip into festivities with an 80-pound wedge of cheese in Plymouth, Wis.

(Luke Gierhahn/Pymouth Arts Center)

Wisconsin loves its cheese, and Plymouth is no exception. Home to companies including Sargento, Sartori, Masters Gallery and Great Lakes Cheese, the city has held a Cheese Drop on Dec. 31 since 2007. Once made of foam, the wedge is now a metal re-creation of Sartori’s BellaVitano Gold Cheese (commissioned by the company itself), according to the Plymouth Arts Center. The first 250 families who show up also get a free gift bag from the cheesemaker. One other change in recent years: the Plymouth Fire Department now lowers the cheese at 10 so families with kids can enjoy it. A champagne toast follows at midnight.

Celebrate with a big bunch of grapes in Temecula, Calif.

(Visit Temecula Valley)

This wine-country town in Southern California has had a fitting tradition since 2009: They drop a 150-pound cluster of fiberglass grapes decked out in more than 7,000 lights. The Temecula Valley Grape Drop actually happens twice on Dec. 31: at 9, for those who want to celebrate with the East Coast, and at midnight local time. In between the drops, the event offers face painting, carnival games, a giant slide and ice skating.

Down some grapes in Madrid

According to food tour company Devour Tours, visitors in Madrid should plan to do most of their partying after midnight, because so many locals welcome the new year with their families at home. A popular place to gather is Puerta del Sol, where a ball drops to the sound of bells, according to the city’s tourism website. Regardless of where people are, they’ll want to have a dozen green grapes handy (pro tip from the food tour company: seedless and skinless is best) to take part in the tradition of eating one grape per chime when the clock hits 12 a.m. “Keeping up for the first couple of grapes is easy enough, but as the chimes go on, it gets harder!” Devour Tours says. “The more grapes you eat, the more luck you’ll have in the following year, so planning is key here.”

Waltz into 2020 in Vienna

Visitors have much to choose from in parts of Vienna, where the New Year’s Eve Trail attracts about 750,000 people a year, according to the city’s tourist board. The festivities start around 2 p.m. on Dec. 31 with shows, music, waltz classes and children’s events. A live broadcast of the Vienna State Opera’s “Die Fledermaus” starts at 7 on Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. At midnight, the Pummerin bell rings from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, fireworks go off over City Hall and it’s time to put those dance lessons to use with “The Blue Danube Waltz.”

Ring a bell in Tokyo

According to Nori Akashi, a spokeswoman for the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau in New York, the tradition in Japan is to find a nearby temple on New Year’s Eve and take part in ringing the bell. This is usually done 108 times. Some Tokyo neighborhoods such as Roppongi and Shibuya, with concentrations of foreigners and young people, also observe a countdown, inspired by Western traditions. On New Year’s Day, people traditionally go to a shrine to say prayers for the new year. Akashi said in an email that although Meiji Jingu is the biggest and most popular site, any shrine — big or small — will suffice.

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