More often than not, this column deals with the wonderment of wildlife and the peculiarity of plants. Today it takes on the idiosyncrasies of another of earth’s inhabitants — the habits of Homo sapiens.
It is often said that people do the strangest things. Especially on New Year’s Day, I would concur. There are many peculiar options for the New Year’s Eve midnight celebration, so no excuse is available to drop the ball on this special night — though there are many good alternatives.
Celebrating the New Year has always been a tradition for humans. Beginning in 2000 B.C., Babylonians began the custom of commemorating the New Year, though their new year began in thespring. It was Julius Caesar who switched the date to January 1 (in the western world), when he revised the calendar — thus instituting the Julian calendar — throughout the Roman Empire and all its provinces. China, of course, had no part in this, and to this day celebrates its New Year on a wholly different schedule.
How humans have fun on the cusp of the New Year varies throughout the country, and throughout the world. But an interesting ritual in our country is the dropping (or raising) of objects when the clock strikes midnight. It’s as if we were waiting for the other shoe to drop around midnight, though that honor goes to Key West, Fla., which drops a large red shoe to celebrate. Americans are always ready to party at the drop of a hat.
Almost everyone knows about the famous dropping of the ball in New York city. That ritual began in 1907 and has occurred every year since, excepting 1942 and 1943, when wartime restrictions temporarily eliminated the practice. The New York orb is an 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball, though during the years from 1981 through 1988, a big apple replaced the usual ball.
But an apple is not the strangest object dropped in the United States during the New Year’s celebrations. Across the country, Americans have developed their own distinctive choices of objects for this activity. Some you may never have heard of.
Animals figure prominently in some cities’ celebrations.
Fish, for instance, are perfect for Eastport, Maine; Point Pleasant, N.J.; Prairie du Chien, Wisc.; and Port Clinton, Ohio — which drop a sardine, a mossbunker, a carp named Lucky, and a walleye, respectively. Easton, Md., prefers dropping a crab in honor of the New Year.
Birds that can’t fly away from revelers work for some communities. Havre de Grace, Md., drops a wooden duck, and Pensacola, Fla., prefers a pelican.
Mammals are the guests of honor in other communities. Cincinnati, Ohio, drops a flying pig; and Beaverstown, Pa., a beaver, of course. In Blaire, Pa., a (replica) cow dropped from a silo marks the big moment. A wildcat is the preference for Gratz,Pa. There is even one town that uses a live animal at theirparty. Brasstown, N.C., drops a plexiglas pyramid with a live opossuminside. Where is PETA during that one?
Corporate products have taken charge elsewhere. A bag of Hartley’s Potato Chips is dropped in Lewistown, Pa.; and a Yeungling Beer is on tap to be raised (instead of dropped), in Pottsville, Pa. (and probably more than one is, in fact). Moonpies are it for Mobile,Ala. An oddity, even among this list, is the object in Bethlehem,Pa. There, citizens lower a giant “marshmallow” Peep!
Some communities go for a little more healthy option. Harrisburg drops a strawberry, while Mt. Olive, N.C., prefers a pickle. For New Bloomfield, Pa., it is a huckleberry, and an olive falls at the stroke of midnight in Bartlesville, Okla.
Others town are not as concerned about getting their fruits and vegetables. Lebanon, Pa., drops bologna; Cleonia, Pa., a pretzel; and Elmore, Ohio,sausage. Cheese is the choice for the falling object of honor in Plymouth, Wisc.
My personal favorite is the 900-pound acorn in Raleigh, N.C. The saying goes, from little acorns do big oaksgrow. What would come from that 900 pounder?
No matter where you are and what is falling at your New Year’s event, enjoy the spectacle of human nature: what makes us want to mark the start of a new year in a certain way, and how we decide what that will be. Whatever drops, though, hopes and spirits are simultaneously raised; so best wishes to all in the New Year.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.