First Night - A New Way to Ring in the New Year
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.
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.
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
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?
Lewis and Clark Community College has been sponsoring First Night Riverbend for 17 years.