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First Night - A New Way to Ring in the New Year

Updated on September 10, 2012

New Year’s Eve can be a challenge when it comes to finding activities that will please people of all ages but a First Night celebration can be the answer to your problem.

My niece and fellow Hubber Cara Ardelean published a hub on activities to do with young children. At that age, it’s fairly easy to entertain them – music, noisemakers and snacks will do the trick.

But as children get older, it gets a little more challenging, especially for the “tween” crowd – those who are old enough to stay up to ring in the new year but not old enough to drive themselves to a party. Or if your children are far apart in age as ours are.

We solved that dilemma years ago when we attended a First Night celebration in Godfrey on the campus of Lewis and Clark Community College. It was 1996 and our older son, CJ, was 12 and Sam was 5. 2012 will be the 17th year the college has sponsored First Night and I think we’ve been to just about every one of them.

Each year, a local artist designs the First Night admissions button.
Each year, a local artist designs the First Night admissions button. | Source

What is First Night?

First Night is a celebration of the coming New Year expressed through the arts. It started in Boston in 1976 as a finale to the city’s Bicentennial events. It was designed to unite the community through a shared cultural event and to broaden the public’s appreciation of the visual and performing arts. An alcohol-free, family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night is intended to be an alternative to the traditional New Year’s revelry.

In 2012, there were more than 140 celebrations worldwide including St. Louis, North Carolina and, of course, New York as well as in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Just some of our First Night River Bend admission buttons we've saved over the years.
Just some of our First Night River Bend admission buttons we've saved over the years. | Source

First Night River Bend

We started attending First Night because we wanted to do something as a family but were finding it a challenge to come up with something that both our boys could enjoy. With a friend along for our older son, we headed out to the campus. There we found a children’s venue where Sam could make a paper hat (very popular with kids of all ages), watch a juggler and do other activities. CJ and his friend took off to watch the magician and “hang out.”

Through the years, First Night River Bend has featured live music, singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians and shows for people of all ages. Some of our favorites have been Afriky Lolo and Chris Camp, “The Whip Guy.” In 2011, the circus came to town when Circus Flora and the Flying Wallendas made an appearance to a sold out crowd.

What’s nice is that the performances and activities at First Night River Bend are spread throughout the college's campus so there’s lots of variety and you don’t get tired of being in one spot. As we walk from building to building, we may run into the Glitter Lady sprinkling her sparkling glitter on passersby or Mother Goose telling her stories. Or we’ll stop to watch huge blocks of ice being transformed into figures by “Chip off the old block” ice carvers.

There are local bands such as Back in the Saddle and the Alton Landing Jazz Quartet and fireworks at midnight. The sponsors are always tweaking the celebration to improve the experience for participants and to make the event run a little smoother. A few years ago they added a bonus display at 9 so that sleepy little ones can have their own “midnight” fireworks. People will stand in line for hours to get their faces painted by Fantasy Faces so event planners started handing out line tickets in 2012.

Elliaire Duet - Circus Flora 2010

These amazing young women from Circus Flora performed at the First Night Riverbend celebration in 2012

Afriky Lolo

The music of Afriky Lolo is inspiring and makes you want to get up and dance along.

The Whip Guy

This man puts on an incredible show with his whips and is a master at handling them.

First Night River Bend 2012

First Night has changed for our family. Eventually CJ started going out with friends on New Year’s Eve instead of hanging out with us. When we found out volunteers can see the shows for free, my husband, Sam and I started volunteering. This saves us some money and we still catch the shows we want to see.

Now it’s just my husband and I who attend the annual event. At 6 p.m., we’ll take our place at our stations and after a couple hours’ work we’ll head over to Hatheway Cultural Center on campus to see the belly dancers. Or maybe we’ll catch The Whip Guy in the Riverbend Arena. Although we could go listen to Back in the Saddle in the Commons instead….

Have you ever been to a First Night Celebration?

See results


5800 Godfrey Road, Godfrey, IL:
5800 Godfrey Rd, Godfrey, IL 62035, USA

get directions

Lewis and Clark Community College has been sponsoring First Night Riverbend for 17 years.


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    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Docmo. I'm not sure where you live but like I told prairieprincess, maybe someone will get one started in your town. Meanwhile, enjoy the Canary Islands. I would love to go on a vacation for Christmas and get away from the cold. But I know what you mean about it being weird. I was stationed in Panama for a year or so and Christmas just didn't seem like Christmas down there. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Hi prairieprincess. I'm glad this brought back good memories for you. Maybe someone will be ambitious enough to get one started in Winnipeg some day. Thanks for reading.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      Danette, this sounds awesome. I would love to attend one Christmas. This year is the first time we are holidaying over Christmas as traditionally we 'll spend it always at home. This year we booked to take the whole family to the Canary islands with a warm sunny Christmas- will feel weird!

      Thansk for the info on First Night - I've not heard of it before.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Danette, I went to many First Night celebrations while I lived in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, I remember writing about them when they first came out, as one of my writing classes assignments! So, this brought back great memories for me. I found that these celebrations were so exciting because they had so many people attending, both old and young.

      The city that I live now, Winnipeg, does not have a First Night, but I do miss them! Voted up and more!

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      To me, that's one of the advantages of the Godfrey First Night - it's big enough for a lot of variety of venues but not so huge that we can't get around it without a shuttle. I'll bet the one in SC was nice -- even though we hardly ever get snow in Dec, it can be very cold sometimes. Thanks for all the votes up.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      6 years ago from South Carolina

      I think First Night is a great way to ring in the New Year - safe, fun, entertaining and easy on the budget. The only one I've ever been to was in Charleston, SC a few years ago and it was a blast. There were bands in the park and in many of the restaurants, special events going on in different buildings and awesome decorations throughout the historic district where the event was held.

      They have first night in Dover, Delaware but it is usually too cold and too much walking involved for my hubby to attend. Friends with young children love it though.

      Voted up across the board except for funny. I can see why you keep returning to the Godfry one.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Denise, yes that was CJ's graduation you're thinking of.

      Sunnie, thanks for reading and commenting. I can understand why more places don't have First Night or something similar. It takes a lot of work, time and effort to pull it together. I wish you a wonderful and prosperous 2012 as well.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      6 years ago

      What a wonderful way to ring in the New Year! I love things like this. Austin is the closet city for big celebrations... May have to keep a look out for something like this in the future..Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful time. Wishing you love this coming New Year.


    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Was that the First Night I spent while visiting with you guys or am I thinking of a different celebration? I know we did something downtown with your friends--oh, it may have been the grad celebration?

      Great hub, Danette. I think this alternative is such an important one. I'm passing it on for others to read. :)


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