Thursday, December 31, 2015
Several years ago I happened to be in New York City on New Year's Eve and witnessed the dropping of the giant ball of light in Times Square. I thought this was an odd tradition but had no idea where it originated or what its history was. Now, all these years later, I finally found the answer and thought I would share the information with others who also might be puzzled by this unusual practice.
I suppose that if we wanted to read this practice as metaphor, we might interpret it as representing the awakening spiritual light of the coming year, which descends from above and is shattered to cover the entire earth.
The Times Square celebration dates back to 1904, when The New York Times opened its headquarters on Longacre Square. The newspaper convinced the city to rename the area "Times Square," and they hosted a big party, complete with fireworks, on New Year's Eve. Some 200,000 people attended, but the paper's owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted the next celebration to be even splashier. In 1907, the paper's head electrician constructed a giant lighted ball that was lowered from the building's flagpole. The first Times Square Ball was made of wood and iron, weighed 700 pounds, and was lit by a hundred 25-watt bulbs. Now, it's made of Waterford crystal, weighs almost six tons, and is lit by more than 32,000 LED lights. The party in Times Square is attended by up to a million people every year.
Other cities have developed their own ball-dropping traditions. Atlanta, Georgia, drops a giant peach. Eastport, Maine, drops a sardine. Ocean City, Maryland, drops a beach ball, and Mobile, Alabama, drops a 600-pound electric Moon Pie. In Tempe, Arizona, a giant tortilla chip descends into a massive bowl of salsa. Brasstown, North Carolina, drops a Plexiglas pyramid containing a live possum; and Key West, Florida, drops an enormous ruby slipper with a drag queen inside it.
(from The Writer's Almanac)