Naturally, I fell asleep and missed the ceremonies on New Year’s Eve. This year I got much closer and well asleep at 11:55 p.m. and woke up 11 minutes later. We celebrated with a Miranda’s pizza (fabulous) and a theater showing of the Disney animation “Frozen.” (not so much.)
I am even more duty-bound to watch it next year (If’n I make it) and I have done my due diligence in the import of this activity.
My personal New Year’s Festivity Researcher Liz Solloway, who once made up stories for the Camden Herald, reports that Eastport always drops a cod each New Year’s to celebrate its seafaring past. Atlanta drops a Georgia peach; Ocean City, Maryland drops a huge beach ball. And Mobile, Alabama drops a 600 pound Moon Pie, whatever that is. Tempe, Arizona drops a giant tortilla chip into a massive bowl of salsa. (I would like to see that.) Liz reports that Brasstown, North Carolina drops a Plexiglas pyramid with a live possum inside. (No idea.) Want to take a guess at Key West Florida? How about a drag queen inside a glass slipper? (Pass.)
All of this ball-dropping goes back to the creation of standard time back when Jerry Gamins was a lad. In order to help the lads at sea, a ball would be dropped on a portside pole, at noon or 1 p.m. to allow the navigators to set their chronometers (timepieces) while at sea. The sailors would check through a telescope and set the devices properly. The first ball was established in Portsmouth, England in 1829. Following England’s lead, the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. began dropping a time ball in 1845. Then many port cities adopted the practice.
Walter Palmer always liked the idea of the time balls. Since he worked as chief electrician for the New York Times, he was in a position to do something about it. The New Year’s celebration with the ringing of the bells at the Trinity Church was already well established even before Dick Clark. But our boy Walter and his boss decided in needed a special touch.
The New York Times had tried to lure the crowds away from the church to their new building at 46th Street and Broadway. They tried first with fireworks but they overdid it and showered the revelers with hot ash. The ever-vigilant New York Fire Department then banned the use of fireworks.
It was war.
Adolph Ochs didn’t become publisher and owner of the Times by sitting by, doing nothing. He summoned our boy Walter to build a lighting display which would not set party-goers on fire. He wanted to combine the ball-dropping time devices with this new-fangled electricity, in time for the 1908 New Year’s party.
Palmer designed it. The Artkraft Strauss sign company built it; a 700-pound ball made of iron and wood with a whopping 100 (count ’em!) 25-watt light bulbs. It was a giant celebration when the device slid down the reconverted mainmast of the battleship USS New Mexico.
The crown went wild. A tradition was established.
Over the decades, the device was improved with aluminum replacing wood and iron. The measly 25-watt bulbs were replaced with halogen, then LED bulbs. Later versions added lasers, rhinestones and rotating mirrors. Finally, computer controls were added in 1995. The current edition, the one I slept through, weighs 11,875 pounds, is 12 feet in diameter and has 2,688 Waterford Crystals illuminated by 32, 256 Philips LEDs. The crystals are redesigned each year with a theme for the New Year. This year’s theme was “A Gift of Imagination.”
You didn’t know any of that, now did you?
New Years has always been an excuse for celebration, drinking too much and gradual recovery during the month.
The first moon of the vernal equinox was celebrated in March more than 4,000 years ago in Babylon. They celebrated with an 11-day religious holiday, Akitu, their word for barley. Everyone needs an excuse to party and the Babylonians said Akitu was in commemoration of the sky god, Marduk slaying the evil goddess Tiamat. During this celebration, a new king was named. Makes more sense than our system, which has been described as a Demolition Derby.
Different cultures used different excuses to party. In Egypt, the New Year celebration occurred when the Nile flooded its banks. The Chinese celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Different strokes for different folks.
It fell to Julius Caesar to get the party organized. Before he was stabbed by some of his closest friends, Julius called in his scientists and astronomers and organized a reliable calendar in 46 BC. His new calendar established January 1 as the start of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings. Julius got the party started.
It was such a good idea that everyone joined in. The Spanish now eat a dozen grapes on New Year’s Eve. It is lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in our southern states. Pork is a big holiday dish in Cuba, Austria, Hungary and Portugal. Ring-shaped cakes finish the meal in Netherlands, Mexico and Greece. In Sweden and Norway, rice pudding with an almond inside is a tradition. Don’t know why.
At Cobb Manor, tradition is a Café Miranda pizza, followed by Sweet Sensations pastry, and snoozing on the couch. The Babylonians would be disgraced.
Wait ’til next year.