New Year's Eve traditionally inspires people to throw out the old and ring in the new. The United States is host to many traditions, several of them stemming from cultural and religious observances. Many people enjoy seeing the new year in with family and friends, while others choose to do so in public venues. Across the country, though, Americans adhere to their customary habits at midnight and beyond.
One of America's favorite traditions is also its most widely watched. Every year since 1907, barring World War II years, New York City has hosted a massive party on Times Square. As many as 1 million people attend this party every year, while millions watch a televised version nationwide. The celebration includes musical performances, fireworks and party favors, although alcohol is forbidden. The culmination of the festivities is the midnight lowering of a ball from the Times Tower. The original 1907 ball was illuminated and made of wood and iron. The modern ball weighs 11,875 pounds and is covered in Waterford crystals that make it shine.
Many traditions revolve around the stroke of midnight, which heralds the new year. At both public and private gatherings, people count down the last 10 seconds of the old year. At the stroke of midnight, many people toast to the new year with a glass of champagne. Some people grab a loved one or a friendly stranger and bestow the first kiss of the year. Many towns and cities put on a show with fireworks and provide noisemakers, meant to scare off evil spirits. Many Americans band together and sing "Auld Lang Syne," an Irish song bidding farewell to the old year.
Some Americans eat certain foods either at New Year's Eve parties or on New Year's Day to bring good luck. European-Americans often eat pork, not only because the pig's plumpness suggests plenty, but also because pigs dig with their snout in a forward motion. People like the idea of moving forward into the new year. New Englanders often choose cabbage to go with their pork as a symbol of prosperity. Another dish for prosperity is Hoppin' John, a southern dish made of black-eyed peas. Not only do the "eyes" on the black-eyed peas resemble a circle -- for the completed year, the abundance of them symbolizes the hope for a similar amount of money.
Several cities host "first night" festivities, alcohol-free, family-oriented celebrations often featuring live music. Many African-Americans observe "Watch Night" in their local churches as an observance of the Emancipation Proclamation's signing on January 1, 1863. Others follow traditions for lucky underwear. Red underwear is said to bring Italian-Americans love; yellow underwear signifies happiness and prosperity to Latin Americans; and polka-dotted underwear is expected to bring fortune to Filipino-Americans.
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