On Dec. 31, 1976, Boston held the first First Night in the country. The purpose of the outdoor artistic and cultural celebration was, and still is, to give the community a chance to ring in the New Year sans alcohol with music, arts and more.
Nine years ago, the city of Hazleton decided to join hundreds of other communities across the country and hold a First Night of its own. Unlike many such New Year’s Eve festivities, revelers will only get rosy cheeks as they go from venue to venue, not waiting outside for hours for the clock to strike midnight.
“It’s 90 percent indoors,” said First Night Coordinator Lena Kotansky.
Kotansky has been involved in First Night since its inception. A former city resident who resided in Newtown, Pa., told Mayor Lou Barletta about the First Night that town was putting on and how nice it was.
“The mayor was hoping we could replicate that here,” Kotansky said.
Now, nearly a decade later, Hazleton hosts one of only two First Night celebrations in NEPA; the other is held in Scranton. Hazleton’s turnout varies from 2,000-4,000 people. The year’s entertainment ranges from comedy to dance, to music from Twelve Twenty-Four and There & Back Again, to a train display and horse-drawn carriage rides. Of the many choices, Kotansky sees performances that involve the audience as the most popular.
“We have a life-size version of the Candy Land game with pieces that were created by local artists, and the participants walk through the board,” she said. “It’s really pretty fun.”
Kotansky thinks that First Night’s meaning goes much deeper than just fun activities for Hazleton residents, especially with its ties to such a large national event.
“I think that an arts event speaks to the quality of life for people in the community,” she explained. “We can offer something like this, which is not only a high-quality event in and of itself but is also a part of something that’s so much bigger.”
Surprisingly, Kotansky’s favorite part of First Night comes as she’s running around making sure everything is going smoothly.
“It’s when we’re seeing people who are here with their families and enjoying an event that’s alcohol-free and safe, wishing ‘Happy New Year’ to people who are clearly strangers, it’s just such a good feeling,” she said, her voice rich with emotion.
First Night Hazleton, Thursday, Dec. 31 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Admission buttons: $8 adults, $4 seniors and children 8-14 in
advance; $10 adults, $5 seniors and children 8-14 day of. Under 7, free. Schedule of events and list of button locations: