First Night, Fun Night

Thanks to art communities, theater companies and other creative groups in cities around the United States, the excitement of New Years Eve and New Years Day is no longer a grown-ups only proposition. In recent years, First Night festivals popped up to welcome people of all ages to the party.

These vibrant street festivals not only celebrate the start of a new year, but also a city or region’s cultural and culinary riches in grand style. If your family is stay-cationing, your local First Night festival is, literally, a fantastic way to see your hometown in a new light. If the family is traveling, the First Night party is the perfect primer, introducing all of you to the best cultural and culinary spots a city has to offer families. And given First Nights are street festivals, it’s all but guaranteed there will be something for everybody, from concerts and street performers to heartwarming street foods and drinks to an opportunity to see a town dressed in holiday style at a leisurely pace — without the chaos of Christmas or Boxing Day sales shoppers.

Boston Streets

© Giovanni Gagliardi | Dreamstime

Boston is said to be the first city to pull together a First Night gathering. In 1976, a group of hearty artists banded together to create an alternative, alcohol-free way to celebrate the New Year by staging indoor and outdoor performances the whole family could enjoy. Today, events have spread across New England with celebrations in Hartford, Bangor and Burlington.

Other First Night festivals of note around the United States take place in Monterey, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., Missoula, Mont., Alexandria, Va., Tacoma, Wash., and Evanston, Ill.

Those coming to New England from out of town will appreciate how Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina in Newport, R.I., is itself a winter wonderland, with live holiday music in the lobby and complimentary hot toddys upon arrival. On New Year’s Day, visitors can witness the feats of daring outdoorsmen and women taking the annual Newport Polarbear Plunge.

The Nantucket Hotel and Resort in Nantucket, Mass., also taps into its New England island spirit and colonial heritage with its own New Year’s Eve Ball. However, those who don’t require the kick from Champagne can head to First Night Chatham and First Night Worcester.

Post Hotel and Spa Canada

© Helena Bilková | Dreamstime

The Post Hotel & Spa in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, has its own self-contained entry into 2018 set against the spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountains. On New Year’s Eve, families can explore the outdoors with horse-drawn sleigh rides and an ice skating rink just outside the lobby. Adult families traveling together and looking to indulge will have at their doorstep the hotel’s fabled black-tie optional affair.

Over in Oahu, Hawai’ians beeline to Ala Moana Beach Park to ring in the New Year by camping, grilling and watching the evening’s New Years fireworks display. For optimum views of the show, Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites, a 50 year-old Waikiki landmark (made famous in the credits of the original Hawaii 5-0), offers guests some of the island’s best vantage points.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, near Jacksonville and St Augustine, stages its Black & White masquerade gala for over 21 visitors with buffets that celebrate the bounty of the northern Florida Coast, including copious quantities of scallops, lobster, lamb loin, braised short ribs and a scrumptious display of desserts. Families with kids can drive into St. Augustine to take in its annual Nights of Lights festival.