Last month, First Night organizers announced the cancellation of this year’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Economics, changing entertainment options and an aging board all contributed to the demise of the 20+-year tradition.
But not everyone got the word.
On Saturday, December 15, the Westport Historical Society held its final “Holly Day” celebration. As kids lined up for horse-drawn carriage rides and Santa’s lap, parents asked if they could buy First Night buttons. For years, the WHS had sold them there.
Horse-drawn sleighs were a feature of First Night. They’ll be back at First Light.
Giving the news that First Night was over saddened WHS executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff. “It was a beloved event,” she says. “Organizers made sure there was something for everything.”
That night, she asked WHS employees whether the Avery Place institution should offer a New Year’s Eve celebration for the town.
“NO! ” replied the staff, exhausted after weeks of their own holiday events.
But on Monday morning, director of operations Alicia D’Anna told Ganeshram she had a change of heart. She and her husband had talked. They wanted the WHS to do something after all.
In a local version of a Christmas miracle, the Historical Society took just a few days to develop Westport’s newest tradition: First Light.
It includes many favorite First Night activities, including performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, and food trucks.
Plus a big bonfire right next door to WHS, on Veterans Green.
The WHS crew worked like Santa’s elves to get everything in place. They had help from many folks at Town Hall. Ganeshram singled out First Selectman Jim Marpe, for going “above and beyond” to make things happen.
TD Bank stepped up big time too, offering a venue for events that don’t fit in the cute but cramped WHS Wheeler House headquarters.
So First Night is gone. But First Light — at first just a flicker — has now grown into a full New Year’s Eve flame.
(First Light is set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, December 31. Buttons are $10 online, $15 at the door; children under 2 go free. Click here to purchase buttons, and for more information.)