A year ago today, thousands of people packed close together in Times Square to watch the iconic crystal ball drop. When the clock struck midnight, they kissed and danced and shouted the lyrics to “New York, New York” under tall, purple hats bearing the logo of the annual event’s sponsor, Planet Fitness.
Bars in Center City were packed with the usual New Year’s Eve revelers. Booze flowed freely and glitter was omnipresent. At homes across the region, people held New Year’s Eve parties, some with a Roaring ’20s theme and flapper dresses.
No one thought twice about how many people were on the guest list or panicked if someone coughed within six feet of them. Some may have even stolen a sip of a friend’s cocktail or, when the clock struck midnight, kissed someone whose recent whereabouts they didn’t know.
Needless to say, New Year’s Eve will look far different this year. In Times Square, the public guest list will include just 40 essential workers spaced out on the street in socially distant pens.
In Philadelphia, there will be no major fireworks display and no preparations for a Mummers Parade (at least not an official one). Bars will be shuttered and friends won’t be able to sit inside restaurants for celebratory dinners. Annual countdown parties — including one called F— 2020 — will turn virtual.
» READ MORE: Your complete guide to New Year’s 2021 in Philly
Across the region, people plan to get creative. They say they want to mark the end of this overwhelmingly terrible year in safe, fun ways and welcome 2021 with optimism and hope. Several said they plan to institute an Irish New Year’s tradition to bring some good luck. Others said they’ll bang pots and pans outside with their children or bake and watch the national broadcasts or raise a socially distant toast to neighbors.
A few are letting the year peter out, with one woman responding to a reporter’s query by saying: “I’m trying not to jinx it. I’m backing away slowly from 2020, I don’t want any trouble!”
In normal times, Beth VanOstenbridge would dress up, go out for dinner with friends, and return to someone’s home to ring in the new year. But this year, VanOstenbridge, 44, said she’ll be at her Phoenixville home, watching out the window as “Auld Lang Syne” plays on the Christmas light display set up on her front lawn.
The light show, which attracted excited passersby throughout December, has been a family tradition since 2010, when her brother, Jim, engineered the show so their homebound mother could have “her own Longwood Gardens,” VanOstenbridge said. Their mother died two years ago, she said, and last year the siblings’ light show took a hiatus.
But in 2020, VanOstenbridge said, it felt important to resurrect the tradition and bring moments of joy to people in a year that has deprived everyone of so much. It’s the show’s debut in Phoenixville, she added, and “Auld Lang Syne” is a new addition to the eight-song loop.
At midnight, VanOstenbridge hopes a few onlookers are outside to watch the lights dance to the traditional New Year’s Eve song, she said. She’ll raise a socially distant toast from her home, she said, with hopes for a brighter 2021.
She said with a laugh: “It only can get better, right?”
In Buckingham, Bucks County, Mimi McHenry, 49, said she’s planning to start a new tradition to welcome 2021.
At 11:59 p.m., she said, she’ll do something seemingly small. She’ll open her back door to “let out” the old year and a moment later she’ll open the front door to “let in” the new year. She said she’ll also walk outside with her purse for good financial luck in 2021. She learned of both of these traditions from a Facebook page for Irish people in the Philadelphia region, she said.
“What a great way to usher out 2020,” she said. “I’m praying for better for 2021.”
Like so many things in 2020, McHenry had to “adjust and make the best of” a tamped-down New Year’s Eve celebration. She’ll just just be spending it with her close circle, she said, but she thinks the new tradition can bring positivity.
“Hopefully it’ll make everybody feel a little fresher,” she said, “a little more hopeful.”