Weird and Wonderful
While New Year's Eve is typically observed with raucous parties and freely flowing libations, some towns veer away from tradition to embrace oddball festivities that reflect their distinct personality. If the Times Square ball drop is too tame for your tastes, venture to any of these off-the-beaten-path cities where peculiar pastimes on the eve—or the first day—of the new year are sure to make your celebration memorable.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Whether they do it to burn off Christmas calories or debunk the “don’t swim after eating” rule is anyone’s guess, but every year more than a thousand brave souls venture to this barrier island near Savannah to wade into the icy Atlantic at noon on New Year’s Day. Dubbed the “Polar Plunge,” the collective dip is a 19-year-old tradition.
Marion, North Carolina
Marion has never dropped the ball on its New Year’s Eve countdown. Instead, in a nod to its earlier life as a gold mining town, this community located 35 miles east of Asheville drops a six-foot "gold" nugget into a 10-foot frosted donut—which can then be eaten—as part of its annual Gold Nugget Drop.
Wikimedia Commons via Wakenshaken
The peaks of this mountain town light up on New Year’s Eve, but not just from fireworks. Starting at 6:30 p.m., ski instructors and Vail locals, glow sticks in hand, form an illuminated train that descends Golden Peak to kick off the town’s annual Torchlight Parade.
Moon Pies, which are akin to chocolate-covered s’mores, have been a Southern dessert staple since 1917, when a hungry Kentucky coal miner reportedly asked for a snack “as big as the moon.” Mobile's fixation on the sweet treat is celebrated on New Year’s Eve, when an illuminated 12-foot mechanical Moon Pie travels down the RSA BankTrust building at midnight.
flickr.com via mobile_gnome
Why hit a bar on New Year’s Eve when you can sip a glass by moonlight in the wine capital of the United States? Hop on board Napa's Wine Train to join locals and tourists for a three-hour New Year’s Eve journey through California wine country. The evening begins with appetizers and a glass of bubbly at the station and continues with a four-course gourmet meal on the train.
flickr.com via Sarah Stierch
Mount Olive, North Carolina
Proving that you don’t have to stay up until midnight to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, the sleepy town of Mount Olive, home of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, hosts a rip-roaring annual pickle drop at 7 p.m. EST—midnight in Greenwich Mean Time. The giant gherkin descends into a redwood pickle tank at the most natural place for a pickle drop: the corner of Cucumber and Vine.
Wikimedia Commons via RadioFan
Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Anglers flock to Prairie du Chien for ice fishing year-round, but especially in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, when the town hosts its annual Carp Fest. The weeklong event, which revolves around Lucky the Carp, includes a carp coloring contest and a meet-and-greet with the Carp King and Carp Queen. The festivities culminate in the Droppin’ of the Carp, in which a 20- to 30-pound frozen carp is lowered by crane onto its "throne," where revelers can, if they're so inclined, give the fish a smooch.
flickr.com via diversey
Not surprisingly given the town’s wide array of Western boot retailers, Prescott’s riff on the New Year’s Eve ball drop has plenty of sole. In the leather-loving locale's annual Whiskey Row Boot Drop, a six-foot lighted cowboy boot is lowered from a 40-foot flagpole atop the Palace Building. A bonus for early risers: The drop is scheduled for 10 p.m., so revelers can catch the countdown and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
YouTube via guitrs8
As New Year’s Eve merrymakers elsewhere celebrate the start of 2019, many in Fredericksburg will be traveling back in time to the 1940s. The Hangar Hotel, a re-creation of a World War II aircraft hangar, annually hosts a New Year’s Eve party that harks back to USO-style shindigs of the 1940s. The bustling ball held near Main Street features retro tunes, swing dance lessons, and a '40s costume contest.
flickr.com via reginarodriguez
The clinking of glasses is a familiar sound on New Year’s Eve in Pottsville, but the glasses are more likely to be filled with beer than champagne. Pottsville is, after all, the home of Yuengling, the oldest brewery in the country. In an annual homage to a rich brewing legacy, the city rigs a super-size Yuengling lager bottle to the flagpole in Garfield Square and raises it to the top when the clock strikes 12.
flickr.com via robertpeeler
Princess Anne, Maryland
Few town mascots know how to make an entrance like Princess Anne’s own Marshall P. Muskrat. During the annual Midnight Muskrat Dive, the stuffed muskrat, wearing a cape and stovepipe hat, zooms through Somerset Avenue on a zip line to commemorate the coming of the new year.
new-years-eve-drop.wikia.com via Sofiasb10
Savannah’s laws are laxer than most when it comes to the public consumption of alcohol; the city permits pedestrians to walk the streets with alcohol in to-go cups. This spirited, laissez-faire attitude is feted on New Year’s Eve, when the city skips a ball and instead raises a glass—or more specifically, a giant to-go cup—in honor of its ale-friendly ordinances.
St. Cloud, Florida
How many people attended your neighborhood’s last block party? 5? 10? 15? While the tradition may have grown stale in some corners of the country, it’s alive and well in the Orlando suburb of St. Cloud. The annual town-wide New Year’s Eve Rockin’ the Cloud block party, featuring food trucks, live country music, and a Cloud Drop, is attended by 5,000 — nearly 10 percent of the town's total population!
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If you can’t make it to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, hit up Colonial Williamsburg for a stateside twist on the Scottish New Year’s Eve festivity. Colonial Williamsburg’s rendition of Hogmanay, which features authentic songs and storytelling, will have you counting down to the new year like a 17th-century Scot.
flickr.com via watts_photos
Panama City, Florida
If you’ve ever tuned in to the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop on television, you know it’s all too easy to miss the actual moment when the ball drops. But attend Panama City's New Year’s Eve celebration in person, and you’ll have thousands of chances to see an orb descend from the night sky. The seaside town drops a whopping 10,000 inflatable beach balls at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, then at midnight lowers an 800-pound illuminated LED beach ball 80-feet from Celebration Tower.
The Party of the Year
Big cities might get most of the attention when it comes to New Year's celebrations, but these American towns offer their own unique ways to kick off the new year.
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