Champagne at midnight on New Year’s Eve is a grand auld custom; but for anyone who has ever experienced a near miss with a drunken driver, the 31st of December can feel like an awfully good time to stick close to home. Many of us have asked ourselves, “Why can’t there be more fun things to do that night that don’t make getting drunk almost obligatory?” And many communities have responded to that wish by organizing alcohol-free activities, some of them early enough in the evening to be kid-friendly. If you want to pay a hefty licensing fee, you can call your town’s party by the trademarked name of First Night; if you’re New Paltz, you get to call it New Paltz Eve!
Yes, New Paltz Eve is back after a long hiatus — and better than ever, with a positive social message. “The vision behind this was to create activities for all ages that are alcohol-free and supportive of the recovery community, on a fun, community-safe base,” says Phoenix Yamamoto, project director for the Greater New Paltz Community Partnership. “This is the first time this group is doing this. It was a big thing in the 1990s. At first I was thinking of calling it First Night — I had no idea it was trademarked, until Carol Roper told me! She was one of the organizers back in the ’90s, and she’s on our planning team now.”
The revival of New Paltz Eve is being made possible under a substance abuse prevention grant, says Yamamoto, intended to “build a strong community coalition” committed to promoting fun community-based activities that aren’t alcohol-fueled and potentially dangerous. “The support everywhere I turn has been really phenomenal,” she reports. “New Paltz has a really strong recovery community.”
All the New Paltz Eve events — which kick off at 3:30 p.m. with a story hour and craft workshop for three-to-five-year-olds at the Elting Memorial Library and wind up with a snap, crackle and pop when a bonfire consumes a pile of pallets at Hasbrouck Park, beginning at midnight — are free of charge, thanks to support from local businesses, churches, government agencies and individuals. “Numerous community organizations have gathered to donate people power, financial donations and technical resources,” Yamamoto says.
Everything is also clustered downtown, so that participants won’t need to venture onto roads populated by scary drivers once they have arrived: “It was very clear from the beginning that we wanted everything within walking distance.” So if you aren’t taking the little ones home when the Elting Library session ends at 4:30 p.m., you can bring your family to the New Paltz Youth Center for a two-hour “Amazing Race/Scavenger Hunt” activity.
From 6 to 8 p.m. the New Paltz United Methodist Church will serve a Community Dinner featuring “three different types of chili: beef, turkey and vegetarian,” Yamamoto says, with the food donated and prepared by congregants of several local churches. The meal is free for all, but you must make reservations online at the Community Partnership website, so that organizers know how much food they need to have on hand.
Teens are the target audience for an open-mic night with youth emcees at the Cafeteria Coffeehouse, running from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Those who want to perform can just sign up upon arrival. Those who would rather get up and boogie can head over to St. Joseph’s Church Hall for a community dance from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. The deejay will be Michelle Taylor, formerly of Radio Q92. “We’re going to have a nice mix of music for everybody,” promises Yamamoto.
Barring an ice storm, blizzard or torrential rain, the night’s festivities will conclude with a gathering at Hasbrouck Park at 11 p.m. to witness a spectacular Community Bonfire Celebration. The New Paltz Fire Department will preside over the blaze, and live music — not too loud at that hour, presumably — will accompany it. (Village residents should be aware that this fire will be fueled entirely by donated wooden pallets; the annual burning of discarded Christmas trees will take place later in January.)
“The bonfire will be lit at midnight,” says Yamamoto. “That’ll be our ball drop.” The entire party is scheduled to wind up at 1 a.m. To RSVP for dinner or any of the other events, or for additional information, visit https://gnpcp.org.
Happy New Year, have fun and stay safe!