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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Music For Celebrating the New Year / Two Listener Questions about the Old Year - 2004-12-30

Broadcast: December 31, 2004



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in V.O.A. Special English.


This is Bob Doughty. On our show this week:

Music for celebrating the beginning of a new year...and two listener questions that involve the final hours of the old year...a night commonly called New Year’s Eve.

Drinking Age


Tonight is New Year’s Eve. Many people will attend New Year’s parties where they will drink alcohol. A listener in Vietnam wrote to ask why a person in the United States must be at least twenty-one years old to do this legally. Nguyen Hoang Phong noted that eighteen years is the legal age for drinking alcohol in most countries. Here is Faith Lapidus with our answer.


Discussing the drinking age in the United States can lead to an argument. I will try to explain both sides of this issue.

In nineteen-eighty-four, Congress passed a measure called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. President Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law.

It bars people in the United States from drinking alcohol unless they are twenty-one years of age or older. States must obey the law or risk losing federal money for building roads and road repairs. The measure was the result of work by several lawmakers and groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Last July, that group and members of Congress celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the law. They praised the measure as one of the most effective anti-drunk driving laws ever passed. They said that twenty-thousand lives have been saved since its passage.

However, some opponents of the measure say it did not save anyone. They say young people who want to drink will find a way to get alcohol. They also reject the number of young people reportedly saved by the law. They say fewer young people are drinking now than twenty yeas ago.

Other people say the National Minimum Drinking Age Act is not fair. They say a young person can join the military and fight in a war at age eighteen. However, they are still not permitted to drink alcohol until they are twenty-one.

Many Americans would like to change the law to make eighteen the age when a person can drink alcohol. But just as many want to keep the drinking age at twenty-one.

The question of a legal drinking age involves ideas of freedom, responsibility, religion, politics and the rights of parents. It is a question that will be argued in the United States for many years to come.

New Year’s Eve Ball Drop


Our second listener question this week also comes from Vietnam. Le van Thanh wants to know about a big ball seen dropping at a famous New Year’s celebration in the United States. The ball drops down a flagpole during the final minute of the year. When it reaches the bottom, a new year will have arrived.

That ball dropping ceremony takes place every New Year’s Eve at Times Square in New York City. This New Year’s tradition began in nineteen oh four. But the tradition of dropping a time ball reportedly began in the eighteen hundreds in England. Lowering a ball was a popular way of telling the time so that ships at sea could make sure they had the correct time. Time balls were used in many ports during the nineteenth century.

In the early nineteen hundreds, the New York Times newspaper owned a building in the Times Square area. The company began holding New Year’s celebrations on top of the building. The first celebration in nineteen oh four included a fireworks display. Three years later, officials added a time ball to count down the seconds to the New Year.

The ball lowering has continued every year since then, except for two years during World War Two. Crowds still gathered in Times Square for the event in nineteen forty-two and nineteen forty-three. But they observed a minute of silence followed by the sound of bells.

The first New Year’s Eve ball weighed more than three hundred kilograms and measured almost one and one-half meters around. It was made of iron and wood and covered with one-hundred lights. The ball used last year weighed almost five-hundred kilograms and measured almost two meters in diameter. It was covered with almost one thousand four hundred moving mirrors. The lighted ball drops twenty-three meters in sixty seconds.

Many years ago, the only people who could watch it drop were those who went to Times Square to celebrate. Today, New York City officials say the ball drop has become an international sign of the New Year. They say satellite technology now makes it possible for more than one thousand million people around the world to watch the event in Times Square each year.

Auld Lang Syne



That is a song millions of Americans will hear this New Year’s Eve. It is called “Auld Lang Syne.” It is the traditional music played during the New Year’s celebration. Jim Tedder has more.


Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish poem. It tells about the need to remember old friends. The words “auld lang syne” mean “old long since” or “the good old days.” The song’s message is to forget about the past and look with hope to the new year. Here, it is sung by Billy Joel.


No one knows who wrote the poem first. However, a version by Scottish poet Robert Burns was published in seventeen-ninety-six. The words and music we know today first appeared in a songbook three years later.

Today, “Auld Lang Syne” is heard in the United States mainly on New Year’s Eve, as the clock strikes twelve and we enter a new year. We leave you now with “Auld Lang Syne” played by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. But before we go, all of us in Special English want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year.



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our special AMERICAN MOSAIC program for New Year’s Eve.

This show was written by Marilyn Christiano, Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson, who also was the producer. Our engineer was Wayne Shorter.

Send your questions about American life to Be sure to include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, V.O.A. Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, V.O.A.’s radio magazine in Special English.