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Rick Steelhammer: Great balls of New Year's Eve! It may be time to declare war on another holiday

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Consider me a conscientious objector in the alleged war against Christmas.

As to the supposed war against Thanksgiving, brought to light last month in a presidential tweet about an unnamed group of unpatriotic Americans plotting to change the name of the holiday to an unidentified something else (Detroit Lions Day? Black Friday Eve?), put me down as a deserter.

But if anyone decides to declare a war on New Year’s Eve, I would be among the first to enlist.

I like the idea of New Year’s Eve. The holiday provides an opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year and celebrate the arrival of a new one and all the possibilities it brings.

But the way the holiday is most often celebrated — binge drinking, second-tier college football bowl game watching, and hours of televised lip-synched pop star performances before and after the fabled Times Square ball drop — leaves much to be desired.

Other countries observe more active New Year’s Eve traditions.

In Denmark, chipped plates and replaced china stockpiled throughout the year are hurled against the front doors of friends and relatives. For some reason, the annual smashup is considered a gesture of friendship and good will.

In Romania, people don bear outfits and dance together in a symbolic bid to ward off evil spirits in the coming year.

In Ecuador, people carry empty suitcases through their neighborhoods to enhance their chances of travel in the coming year. Truly motivated prospective travelers wear yellow underwear, thought to bring good luck on New Year’s Eve, while toting their luggage.

But back in the USA, the common denominator for the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration is watching, through the miracle of television, an illuminated ball take a one-minute slide down a 141-foot flagpole in Times Square — for the 110th time.

That tradition dates back to 1907 and an era in which newspapers made money. The New York Times had recently opened its new Times Square headquarters, and owner Adolph Ochs decided something beyond a New Year’s Eve fireworks display was needed to promote the newspaper and the city.

In the years before ships could communicate via radio, navigators relied on shoreline “time ball” stations to get the correct time of day, used to calibrate navigation gear. At such stations, large balls would drop down poles at predetermined times, as shipboard navigators watched.

Ochs commissioned construction of an illuminated time ball to mark the arrival of a new year in Times Square. A 700-pound iron and wood ball five feet in diameter and illuminated by 100 light bulbs, was used for 13 years before receiving the first of four upgrades. The ball in use today is 12 feet in diameter, weighs 5.5 tons, is covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles, and is lit from inside by 32,256 LED lights.

But no matter how big or flashy the Times Square ball becomes, its still just a bright object making a slow descent down a 141-foot pole, preceded by canned musical performances, and followed by risque humor and random observations by ball-watch hosts.

Maybe it’s time to declare a war against New Year’s Eve, starting with a name change.

Since its former name, Old Year’s Night, is not much of an improvement, I recommend naming it in honor of the person most closely associated with America’s celebration of the holiday. But I’m not sure Dick Clark Rockin’ Memorial Day will catch on. But that’s fine with me.

Since December 31 also falls on my mom’s birthday, I will always consider the holiday Mothers Day II.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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