When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, celebrations unfold across the globe. And when the new year reaches the eastern shore of the United States, a unique tradition plays out across the country, because Americans like to drop things.
The most famous example, the Times Square ball drop in New York City, is also the oldest. The original 700-pound ball was made from iron and wood and dressed up with 25-watt light bulbs. Since its debut in 1907, it’s gotten some serious upgrades: It’s now nearly 6 tons and covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. And these days, it has more than a few imitators across the U.S., as American cities ring in the new year by dropping a variety of other strange items, from candy to human beings.
Giant Ceramic Flea (Eastover, North Carolina)
While honoring a giant flea on New Year’s Eve would be a strange choice for nearly any other town, the parasitic insect is intimately entwined with the small town of Eastover, North Carolina. In the early 1800s, the sandy area became so infested with fleas, they named the township Flea Hill, and there is still a road in the town by the name. By the mid-1800s, the town had gotten its flea problems under control, but the name hung around until it was officially changed to “Eastover” in the 1920s. Once the town was fully incorporated in 2007, its residents looked for some way to honor its history, and devised the annual Flea Drop in 2010. People come from all over the southern U.S. to see this strange display, and as the clock approaches midnight, a 30-pound ceramic fleacounts down to the new year — five, four, flea, two, one.
Peeps (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)
Pennsylvania is the undisputed champion of dropping strange stuff on New Year’s Eve, including a rather unseasonal appearance of the Peep. Usually rearing their multihued, marshmallowy heads around Easter time, Peeps are the famous creation of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based candy maker Just Born. First dropped in 2008, the 400-pound Peep chick greets the new year in front of the Pennsylvania town’s towering SteelStacks, which were the headquarters of Bethlehem Steel for nearly a century. Today, they serve as a cultural center as well as a staging ground for one of the more memorable NYE celebrations in the country.
A Giant Apple (Manhattan, Kansas)
Viewers across the country tune in to watch the ball drop in the Big Apple, but what about the “Little Apple”? Manhattan, Kansas — located just west of Topeka — stays true to its name as it drops a giant apple high above a bar in the neighborhood of Aggieville. The tradition began in 2003, though it took a two-year respite during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event has drawn crowds 10,000 strong in years past, which isn’t bad for a Manhattan with only about 55,000 people.
A Bunch of Grapes (Temecula, California)
Lying in the heart of Temecula Valley south of Los Angeles, the city of Temecula is known for its wineries, so what better way to bring in the new year (and hope for a good harvest) than to drop a 12-foot-tall illuminated bunch of grapes above the town’s civic center? Being a staple crop for the dozens of local vintners, the mascot is an obvious choice and also a flamboyant one — and the tradition is so nice, they drop the grapes twice. The first occurs at 9 p.m. to welcome the new year along with the East Coast, and then the grapes are dropped again to celebrate the West Coast’s entry three hours later.
A Giant Onion (St. George’s, Bermuda)
Dropping things to ring in the new year is a largely American tradition (for some reason), but not exclusively so. One major exception occurs in St. George’s in Bermuda, which was founded as an English settlement in 1612 and is still a British overseas territory. Back in the 1800s, Bermuda was world-renowned for their onions of all varieties, whether red, yellow, white, or purple, and traded their produce heavily with the eastern U.S. While visiting Bermuda in 1877, Mark Twain even wrote, “The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It is her jewel, her gem of gems.” Honoring this long-standing heritage, Bermudians (born-and-bred islanders are still called “Onions”) drop a giant onion bedazzled with bright crystal lights to welcome the new year to their small island in the Atlantic.
6-Foot-Tall Metal Pinecone (Flagstaff, Arizona)
The Weatherford Hotel is a fixture of Flagstaff, and for the establishment’s centennial (as well as the turn of the millennium) in 2000, management wanted to do something special. Looking to New York’s NYE celebration, planners also took inspiration from the local flora, as the city is nestled in Coconino National Forest, home of the world’s largest stand of ponderosa pine. Weatherford hotel co-owner Pamela “Sam” Green fashioned a giant pine cone using styrofoam, a trash can, and lots and lots of local ponderosa pine cones, and the hotel dropped this makeshift creation for the first time to welcome the new millennium. Unsatisfied with the pine cone’s trashy origins, Green eventually upgraded to a 6-foot-tall, metal pine cone created by a local artisan. When the giant pine cone isn’t wowing holiday revelers at the end of the year, it’s stored at Green’s home like an impressive lawn ornament.
Bologna (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
For more than 25 years, the town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has dropped a giant package of bologna for New Year’s Eve. Lebanon is renowned for its bologna, first pioneered by the Pennsylvania Dutch, so the town’s meat-based tradition makes sense. Although it started at the end of 1997, the idea for a bologna drop was bandied about on local radio stations and newspapers for years. Local bologna maker Kutztown Bologna made a 100-pound, six-foot-long piece of meat for the inaugural celebration, and bologna has been a fixture of Lebanon’s New Year’s celebrations ever since.
Opossum (Tallapoosa, Georgia)
Dropping a possum sounds like a pretty unusual celebration. However, not one but twotowns drop the venerable Didelphis virginiana (Virginia opossum) on New Year’s Eve. (Both “possum” and “opossum” are correct terms for the only marsupial found north of Mexico.) In Tallapoosa, Georgia, the Possum Drop involves live music, food vendors, and fireworks, but the taxidermied possum named Spencer is the real star of the show. The 7,000 or so attendees can get a picture with Spencer before he’s hoisted atop the Cain Law Office Building at 11:30 p.m. for his slow descent only a half-hour later. Brasstown, North Carolina, used to also drop a possum but instead used a live one. After much controversy, including legal action from PETA, the town suspended the tradition in 2020.
Potato (Boise, Idaho)
Since 2012, Boise, the capital of Idaho, has stayed true to its state’s starch-filled history by dropping a giant illuminated potato made of resin as the final seconds of the year tick away. The potato, of course, is the official state vegetable of Idaho, and its russet masterpieces are shipped around the world. This is thanks in large part to the state’s volcanic soil, as well as the Snake River, which provides the water and silt that makes Idaho a potato-producing powerhouse. Boise, which is near the Snake River, honors this agricultural heritage with a New Year’s Eve celebration filled with food, music, and 40,000 attendees breathlessly waiting for a crane to drop a massive potato — all in front of the state’s capitol building.
Giant Acorn (Raleigh, North Carolina)
The city of Raleigh, North Carolina, is known as “The City of Oaks” for the many majestic oak trees that line its streets. That might be part of why the town drops a 10-foot-tall, 1,250-poundcopper and steel acorn for New Year’s Eve. This gargantuan acorn was originally created in 1992to celebrate the city’s bicentennial and eventually became the starring attraction of First Night Raleigh, the name of the town’s New Year’s celebration. The acorn spends most of the year as an outdoor installation at the Duke Performing Arts Center, but in early December, it’s carted off to a local artist’s studio for a thorough polishing before its big, year-ending performance.
Sardine and Maple Leaf (Eastport, Maine)
Eastport, Maine, is (as its name suggests) the easternmost city in the contiguous United States, which makes its New Year’s kind of a big deal. Eastport is also the least populous city in Maine, with little more than 1,200 residents, but it puts on a celebration to remember. The town drops two different items — both a wooden sardine and a giant plywood maple leaf. For generations, citizens of Eastport and nearby Lubec worked in sardine factories, and though not many of those factories exist today, the town honors its past by including the famous fish in its celebrations. It’s customary to kiss the fish before the drop, for good luck. With neighboring Canada only a short ferry ride away, Eastport’s New Year’s drop also includes an illuminated maple leaf in honor of its Canadian neighbors.
Humans (Multiple Locations)
Most New Year’s drops involve food, animals, or some other piece of local history, but sometimes actual humans get in on the fun. In Key West, for example, a drag queen named Sushi is dropped in a red stiletto. In Las Vegas, the Strat Hotel held a contest in 2020 to allow one person (wearing an illuminated jumpsuit) to skydive from some 855 feet above the Las Vegas strip to welcome the new year.
One of the strangest examples of a human drop was in 2010, when Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki from the reality TV show Jersey Shore, was set to drop in essentially a human-sized hamster ball at MTV’s studios in Times Square. When New York officials put the kibosh on that plan, MTV moved the event to Seaside, New Jersey, which was the setting for the show’s first season.