First Night

Public New Year’s Eve events, often called “First Night,” typically feature alcohol-free family activities that culminate at midnight with something being “dropped” from on high and/or fireworks streaking the skies. Yet each offers something unique. Here’s a two-state sampler:

First Night Charlotte. One uptown’s biggest annual wing-dings – more than 60,000 people turned out last New Year’s Eve – has activities and events in multiple locations, and a schedule that segues from kids to adults as it unfolds. Activities for children begin at noon and wrap up with a countdown for kids at 4:50 p.m. A “quiet” time follows, with adult-oriented entertainment resuming at 7. Sol Fusion will perform at the main stage, at South Tryon Street and the Levine Avenue of the Arts. That’s also where the illuminated crown will drop at midnight, followed by fireworks directly overhead. It wraps at 12:30 a.m. Details:

First Night Raleigh. This is a major event centered on Fayetteville Street and encompassing about 20 blocks’ worth of venues. It begins at 2 p.m. and winds up at midnight, with the drop of a 1,250-pound copper acorn. (It’s also dropped at 7 p.m. for those needing early shuteye). Both countdowns end with a blaze of fireworks. There’s live entertainment –music, dance, comedy, theater, etc. – at more that 30 outdoor and indoor venues. Details:

Island of Lights, Carolina Beach. Care to welcome 2014 on the beach? The event, staged near the gazebo at the boardwalk, features a DJ and dancing and the midnight drop of a giant lighted beach ball. Fireworks follow. Details:

Brasstown Possum Drop. The annual event in tiny Brasstown (off U.S. 64, near Murphy, in Western North Carolina) made headlines this spring when Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation allowing the the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission to grant a permit for the town’s New Year’s Eve tradition to continue. Animal-rights activists had previously succeeded in getting an administrative judge to ban the custom of lowering a possum, in a glass container, at midnight. As usual, the event will also feature a Miss Possum contest, music and cider. Details:

Mount Olive’s Pickle Drop. The small town is famous for being the home of Mount Olive pickles, and it celebrates the new year at 7 p.m. (that’s 12:00 in Greenwich Mean Time) with Mr. Crisp — the pickle firm’s mascot — releasing the illuminated dill, which descends the flagpole at the intersection of Cucumber and Vine (it lands in a giant pickle barrel). Details:

Dragon Run, Oriental. The coastal hamlet was originally called Smith’s Creek until 1862 when a local found a piece of flotsam from the sunken steamship Oriental. That the washed-ashore item had the name of the ship upon it was considered good fortune, so the town took its present name. There’s little of the Far East about Oriental, except on New Year’s Eve, when spectators gather downtown to bang on pots and pans, and participants don an authentic long-tail and fanged Chinese dragon costume. The dragon comes out just after dark (for the kids) and again at midnight. You touch the dragon for good luck. Details:

Eastover Flea Drop. The town Eastover – off I-95, just northeast of Fayetteville – has its public New Year’s Eve celebration from 10 p.m. to midnight at the Eastover Community Center. Yes, there’s entertainment. And yes, they do “drop” a flea at the stroke of 12.

We’ll let town manager Kim Nazarchyk tell the story: “This started in December 2010. Historically, this area at one point was known as Flea Hill; there are old wives’ tales about why it got that name, so the community chose to go with the flea.”

It is, he said, about 4 feet tall and made of wood and paper mache. And the old wives’ tales?

“There’s lots of sand here,” Nazarchyk said, “and back in the 1700s and 1800s animals and livestock would climb up under buildings. Either at a tavern or a church, the fleas got so bad that people would come out scratching. In one story, the preacher had a Bible in one hand and a back scratcher in the other. Well, supposedly a band of gypsies came through one night and told locals that if you took the leaves from a black walnut tree and spread them on the ground, the fleas would go away.”

And did they?

“Supposedly it worked. We have fleas, but supposedly not as bad as back then.”