When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, celebrations unfold across the globe. But when the new year reaches the eastern shore of the United States, a unique tradition plays out across the country, because Americans like to drop things.
The most famous example, the Times Square ball drop in New York City, is also the oldest. The original 700-pound ball was made from iron and wood and dressed up with 25-watt light bulbs. Since its debut in 1907, it’s gotten some serious upgrades: It’s now nearly six tons and covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. And these days, it has more than a few imitators across the U.S., as American cities ring in the new year by dropping a variety of other strange items, from potatoes to human beings.
For more than 25 years, the town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has dropped a giant package of bologna for New Year’s Eve. Lebanon is renowned for its bologna, first pioneered by the Pennsylvania Dutch, so the town’s meat-based tradition makes sense. Although it started at the end of 1997, the idea for a bologna drop was bandied about on local radio stations and newspapers for years. Local bologna maker Kutztown Bologna made a 100-pound, six-foot-long piece of meat for the inaugural celebration, and bologna has been a fixture of Lebanon’s New Year’s celebrations ever since.
Dropping a possum sounds like a pretty unusual celebration. However, not one but two towns drop the venerable Didelphis virginiana (Virginia opossum) on New Year’s Eve. (Both “possum” and “opossum” are correct terms for the only marsupial found north of Mexico.) In Tallapoosa, Georgia, the Possum Drop involves live music, food vendors, and fireworks, but the taxidermied possum named Spencer is the real star of the show. The 7,000 or so attendees can get a picture with Spencer before he’s hoisted atop the Cain Law Office Building at 11:30 p.m. for his slow descent only a half-hour later. Brasstown, North Carolina, used to also drop a possum but instead used a live one. After much controversy, including legal action from PETA, the town suspended the tradition in 2020.
Since 2012, Boise, the capital of Idaho, has stayed true to its state’s starch-filled history by dropping a giant illuminated potato made of resin as the final seconds of the year tick away. The potato, of course, is the official state vegetable of Idaho, and its russet masterpieces are shipped around the world. This is thanks in large part to the state’s volcanic soil, as well as the Snake River, which provides the water and silt that makes Idaho a potato-producing powerhouse. Boise, which is near the Snake River, honors this agricultural heritage with a New Year’s Eve celebration filled with food, music, and 40,000 attendees breathlessly waiting for a crane to drop a massive potato — all in front of the state’s capitol building.
The city of Raleigh, North Carolina, is known as “The City of Oaks” for the many majestic oak trees that line its streets. That might be part of why the town drops a 10-foot-tall, 1,250-pound copper and steel acorn for New Year’s Eve. This gargantuan acorn was originally created in 1992 to celebrate the city’s bicentennial and eventually became the starring attraction of First Night Raleigh, the name of the town’s New Year’s celebration. The acorn spends most of the year as an outdoor installation at the Duke Performing Arts Center, but in early December, it’s carted off to a local artist’s studio for a thorough polishing before its big, year-ending performance.
Eastport, Maine, is (as its name suggests) the easternmost city in the contiguous United States, which makes its New Year’s kind of a big deal. Eastport is also the least populous city in Maine, with little more than 1,200 residents, but it puts on a celebration to remember. The town drops two different items — both a wooden sardine and a giant plywood maple leaf. For generations, citizens of Eastport and nearby Lubec worked in sardine factories, and though not many of those factories exist today, the town honors its past by including the famous fish in its celebrations. It’s customary to kiss the fish before the drop, for good luck. With neighboring Canada only a short ferry ride away, Eastport’s New Year’s drop also includes an illuminated maple leaf in honor of its Canadian neighbors.
Most New Year’s drops involve food, animals, or some other piece of local history, but sometimes actual humans get in on the fun. In Key West, for example, a drag queen named Sushi is dropped in a red stiletto. In Las Vegas, the Strat Hotel held a contest in 2020 to allow one person (wearing an illuminated jumpsuit) to skydive from some 855 feet above the Las Vegas strip to welcome the new year.
One of the strangest examples of a human drop was in 2010, when Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki from the reality TV show Jersey Shore, was set to drop in essentially a human-sized hamster ball at MTV’s studios in Times Square. When New York officials put the kibosh on that plan, MTV moved the event to Seaside, New Jersey, which was the setting for the show’s first season.