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THIS IS AMERICA - December 31, 2001: New Year's Traditions - 2001-12-27


On December Thirty-First, Americans and other people around the world welcome the New Year. I’m Doug Johnson.


And I’m Bob Doughty. We tell about New Year celebrations on our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.



It is December Thirty-First in New York City. Thousands of people are gathered in Times Square. They stand close together, waiting in the cold darkness for midnight. That is the time when the old year dies and the New Year is born.

The people count the seconds until the New Year arrives. “Ten … nine …eight … ” A huge, brightly lit, glass ball falls as the seconds pass.

When it reaches the ground, the New Year has begun. People shout “Happy New Year!” They sing a traditional New Year song of friendship, called “Auld Lang Syne.”



Americans hope Two-Thousand-Two will be happier than Two-Thousand-One. New York suffered terrible losses in the terrorist attacks on September Eleventh. However, the city is continuing with its New Year’s Eve traditions in Times Square for the ninety-seventh year.

The tradition began in Nineteen-Oh-Four. That year, the owners of the building at Number One Times Square held a party on top of the building. Today, the New Year’s Ball falls from the top of the same building. The ball contains thousands of pieces of lighted cut glass. It looks like burning stars as it falls through the darkness. When it reaches the ground, people in Times Square dance and sing. They throw tiny pieces of colorful paper into the air. Many people in the United States also watch this event on television.


Other cities also have New Year celebrations. For example, Chicago has a fireworks show. The fireworks are launched from the Navy Pier, a land area that extends into Lake Michigan. Some people like to watch the fireworks from a boat on the lake. The boat serves a special meal on New Year’s Eve. People drink a special wine called Champagne to celebrate the clock striking midnight.

Many young people in Chicago celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Children wear funny hats as they wish the animals a good New Year.

Many other Americans celebrate New Year’s Eve with parties at home. Or they celebrate at public eating and drinking places. These events are usually noisy. People shout and sing. They often blow on small noise-makers when the New Year arrives at midnight. They kiss their husband or wife or the person they are with. They dance to broadcast music, records or live bands.



Some people drink too much alcohol at New Year’s Eve celebrations. This can lead to tragic results if a person drinks too much and then drives a car. The National Safety Council says hundreds of people die in road accidents during the holiday.

In recent years, the danger of accidents has resulted in a new tradition called the “designated driver.” One person among a group of friends drinks little or no alcohol during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Then this designated driver can safely drive the other people home. Many American cities also offer free taxi service on New Year’s Eve to take people home safely.


Other Americans observe the coming of the New Year at events without alcohol. More than two-hundred American cities hold these First Night celebrations. Artists in Boston, Massachusetts, started the tradition of First Night celebrations in Nineteen-Seventy-Six. They wanted to observe the coming of a New Year. But they did not want to hold noisy drinking parties. So they organized music, art and other events to observe the holiday.

This year, people in Boston have a choice of entertainment at fifty places in the city. A parade and fireworks celebration are held early in the evening. At midnight, more fireworks are launched over Boston Harbor.

People attending First Night in Whittier, California, are also marching in a parade. Adults and children in the parade wear costumes -- unusual or funny clothes. They hear performers from many countries. For example, they listen to African and African-American stories and traditional Welsh music. Finally, fireworks will light up the California sky.



After the celebrations of New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day is often a quiet day for many Americans. Many people spend the first day of the New Year at home. Some people watch football games on television. Some of the top American university teams play in these games. The games have names like the Outback Bowl, the Toyota Gator Bowl and the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

The most famous of these bowl games is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. It was traditionally played on January First. This year, however, the University of Nebraska and the University of Miami will compete in the Rose Bowl on January Third.

However, the Tournament of Roses parade will take place on January First, as usual. The parade includes many vehicles called “floats.” The floats are covered completely with paper or flowers.

Businesses, social groups, universities and the city government pay thousands of dollars to build these floats. Millions of people watch the colorful event on television.


Another parade takes place on the opposite side of the nation, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This city holds a yearly Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day. The Mummers make unusual costumes to wear. They cover their faces with masks. They march through the city and play musical instruments. Listen now as the Mummers perform “Golden Slippers.”



On New Year’s Day many Americans follow traditions meant to bring good luck in the New Year. They wear special clothes or eat special foods. For example, people who want to find their true love wear yellow clothing. Others carry silver in hopes of finding money.

People in many parts of the United States celebrate the New Year by eating black-eyed peas. Cabbage is another vegetable that people eat to bring good luck and money. In the South, people prepare and eat a traditional food called Hoppin’ John. It contains peas, onions, bacon and rice. It has this unusual name because long ago children were said to like it so much they hopped around the room while waiting for it to cook.


Asian-Americans sometimes make traditional fortune cookies. These sweets contain small pieces of paper telling about a person’s future. Some Americans from Spanish-speaking families follow a tradition for the New Year that involves fruit. On January First, they stand on a chair and eat grapes.

Whatever you do to celebrate the coming of Two-Thousand-Two, we at Special English wish you a very Happy New Year.



This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. Our studio engineer was Bill Barber. I’m Bob Doughty.E ONE:

And I’m Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.