In many cities, whether it's the Times Square ball in New York City, or the giant lighted beach ball at Carolina Beach near Wilmington, some object will be dropped to lead the countdown to 2010.
Not in uptown Charlotte. Here, the Queen's lighted crown will be hoisted 25 feet just before midnight Thursday to part the curtain on the new year.
"We like the symbolism of hope's rising," said Moira Quinn, spokeswoman for Charlotte Center City Partners, the organization producing the festivities. "It's the rising of a new year, and shutting the door on a year that was tough on a lot of people."
The alcohol-free First Night Charlotte is back for a second year, after missing 12 straight Dec. 31sts. It will focus on the arts and Charlotte's growing international cultures.
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About 25,000 people flocked to last year's First Night. Organizers are expecting that many or more revelers in uptown Thursday night.
"For those who don't necessarily want to hang out at a bar, or on the couch at home watching New Year's on TV, it's a good place to be," said Robert Krumbine, head of programs and events for Center City Partners. "It's always good for a community to celebrate together. New Year's Eve is clearly that time to observe the passage of a year and perhaps those things you didn't do so well, and look forward to things you'll do differently."
First Night events begin at 3 p.m. Thursday with First Night Kids, focused at venues such as ImaginOn (300 E. Seventh St.), the Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. Seventh St.) and Discovery Place (301 N. Tryon St.).
At 7 p.m., the children will have their countdown, then join a "people's procession," a parade that will include performers and revelers - organizers are urging folks to wear funny costumes and hats - marching south on Tryon to where the night's festivities will continue around 300 S. Tryon.
Organizers were surprised by the popularity last year of First Night Kids and have added more performers and activities. They've also added more (warm) inside venues.
The event will cost about $250,000, all raised from sponsors and grants. The $10 entry tickets ($12 on Thursday) will go to defray costs.
The initial First Night Charlotte, in 1985, was inspired by First Night Boston, created by artists to celebrate the nation's bicentennial in 1976.
In Charlotte, the event grew by the year. But in 1996, the Arts & Science Council opted to spike the event for 1997 after Mecklenburg commissioners cut funding for the arts by $1.3 million - following a controversy over the gay-themed "Angels in America," which included brief nudity.
That left a hole on New Year's Eve, and for-profit groups tried unsuccessfully to revive some kind of event.
But First Night Charlotte appears to be back for good - and Queen Charlotte's crown will keep rising.