Every year on New Year’s Eve, dozens of cities across the country and globe throw “First Night” celebrations, commemorating the art and culture of their communities to ring in the new year. But the tradition actually found its start 48 years ago here in Boston, thanks to an idea by local artist Clara Wainwright.
Wainwright thought typical drunken New Year’s festivities—which usually resulted in a hangover the next day—made for an empty start to the year. So, she assembled a group of Boston-area artists and musicians and planned First Night, an alcohol-free festival that celebrated all types of community-based art and took advantage of Boston’s walkable atmosphere. During the mid-1970s, Boston had already been quite supportive of other norm-breaking festivities—like the Boston Oil Party, which protested President Nixon and the 1973 oil crisis. For this reason, Wainwright thought it a perfect time to rethink NYE, too.
Even with the frigid, below-10° temperatures of New Year’s Eve 1975, thousands arrived for the inaugural First Night tradition. The event was a success, and First Night quickly became Boston’s signature way to celebrate the new year, attracting 100,000 spectators by 1982. By the 1990s, First Night was compiling the works of over a thousand artists yearly. Similar events quickly spread to over a hundred other cities in the U.S., which would often put their own local spin on the celebration.
In 2013, First Night faced some trouble when its nonprofit ran out of money to fund it. But given the event’s popularity with Bostonians, Mayor Menino used the city’s funding to launch an even more elaborate version of the event in December 2013. Today, First Night is supported mainly by the City of Boston, but it also receives funding from a variety of other sponsors—like Amazon, Meet Boston, and Conventures—which have allowed the event to be completely free since 2015.
Graduating from its usual Copley Square location, First Night’s main stage this year will find its home in the City Hall Plaza, though additional events will be located nearby at the Common, Greenway, Columbus Park, and the Improv Asylum. As usual, the celebration will support all kinds of art. Some standouts: free daytime admission to the Mapparium Globe, hourly afternoon improv shows at the Asylum, a downtown parade at 6. p.m., and, of course, ice sculptures all day.
You can get the full details of this year’s First Night here!
Image via First Night Boston on Instagram