First Night returns to Westport for 24th year
WESTPORT — Almost since the beginning, Barbara Pearson-Rac has been involved in some way with Westport’s First Night New Year’s Eve celebration.
The townwide tradition, now in its 24th year, is one of only two first night celebrations in the state — the other is Hartford — and has changed in some ways since the early 1990s, when Pearson-Rac and her husband, Frank Rac, first started volunteering.
“A lot of our attendees are not necessarily from Westport. They’re from outlying towns and cities around here. Some are from out of state,” said Pearson-Rac, who is the president of First Night’s board of directors. “We invite anyone who wants to attend.”
The celebration, which begins at 4 and ends at 10 p.m., includes musicians, artists, a hypnotist, horse-drawn carriage rides, stargazing and fireworks. Participating venues include Saugatuck Elementary School, Town Hall, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, the Westport Center for Senior Activities, Christ & Holy Trinity Church and downtown Westport.
The evening is organized and marketed solely by volunteers and, according to Pearson-Rac, with great support from the town.
“I’m grateful to Barbara Pearson-Rac and the many volunteers that assist her in organizing and conducting first night,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe, who will be in attendance. “They make a real difference and demonstrate the best of volunteering in our community.”
According to Pearson-Rac, First Night was started in Boston in the 1970s by a group that wanted to create a drug- and alcohol-free New Year’s celebration for families that highlighted the arts.
“A family should be able to take their child into any venue without worrying about what is being said or sung,” Pearson-Rac said.
Celebrate the new year
Buttons can be purchased at Westport Town Hall, Westport Historical Society, Westport Public Library, Weston Town Hall, Trader Joe’s and Weston Hardware, or online at firstnightww.com.
Over the years, the organizers have toyed with the hours of First Night, sometimes remaining open until the ball dropped at midnight. But Pearson-Rac said too often families would clear out well before midnight. In the past eight or so years, Pearson-Rac said, First Night has ended at 10 p.m.
As years have passed, Pearson-Rac said fundraising has become more difficult. Nevertheless, the price of an all-access button to First Night has remained the same : $10 if purchased before Dec. 14 and $15 after.
“It’s hard to fundraise. Every not-for-profit will tell you they’re having the same problem,” Pearson-Rac said.
But Marpe and Pearson-Rac both agree First Night is an important way for people in Westport and elsewhere to enjoy the town’s strong sense of community.
“We get many families from other communities coming to participate in First Night, and I believe that gives them a sense of what Westport is like. Many of them return either to shop or dine or participate in other activities in Westport, which is good for our economy,” Marpe said. “It demonstrates that we are a family community and gives residents of all ages the opportunity to celebrate the New Year in a fun and creative way.”