The Littlest First Night

The bash returns—but much, much smaller.


The fireworks display will kick off at midnight. / Photograph by Elise Amendola/AP Images

First Night has seen better days.

At its height—between 1976 and 2012—Boston’s signature New Year’s Eve celebration was a citywide, all-day smorgasbord of arts and performances that brought out families and young professionals alike. A $10 button was your passport to events, from puppet shows to New Orleans jazz, centered around a magnificent display of ice sculptures on the Common, a parade snaking through downtown, and fireworks at midnight. The event was so popular that it was copied in cities across
the country.

But how times have changed. After the original First Night nonprofit ran out of funds in 2013, Mayor Tom Menino’s office and big-name corporate and media sponsors stepped up to keep it going. Mayor Marty Walsh followed suit, but this spring he sought a private firm to head up the celebration. Conventures, an -event–planning and communications firm, made the winning bid. “Someone has to do it. Someone has to carry on the tradition,” says Dusty Rhodes, the company’s president.

This year’s plans are scaled down—so much so that artist Clara Wainwright, who founded First Night in 1976, described them as “skeletal.” Instead of sprawling from Hynes Convention Center to the waterfront, the festivities will be concentrated in Copley Square and Boston Common. And now the arts procession will encircle the square, rather than stream down Boylston Street as it did in past years.

The good news is that this year, all events will be free, including local acts such as Hyde Park’s Riverside Theatre Works, Somerville’s Grooversity, Chinatown’s Chu Ling Dance, and the Beacon Hill–based Puppeteers Cooperative in venues around the square. And, of course, ice sculptures and fireworks. Happy New Year, Boston.