- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2019

Barb Cram believes that families spending time together is important but rare, especially as the year ends. That’s why she has organized the family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration known as Night Watch Falls Church for the last 13 years.

“I just want people to walk out of the house as they are, not have to wear a coat, put make up on, get fancy,” Ms. Cram said. “Just have fun with the family.”

She is among thousands of people in the D.C. region who will ring in the new year while engaging in alcohol-free community activities for parents and children.

For Night Watch Falls Church, a free shuttle will transport visitors to different entertainment options around town such as obstacle courses, face painting, a performance from a cowboy re-enactor, a puppet show and an orchestra performance with swing dancing.

At midnight, the city will lower a repurposed, 12-inch diameter star that previously had hung from the water tower to ring in the new year.

“Instead of a Swarovski crystal ball, we have this clunky old star,” Ms. Cram said, referring to the famed ornament that is lowered over the Empire State Building to mark the start of the new year.

The star, she said, is Falls Church’s first decoration. Its lowering pays homage to the city’s history — as did the first Night Watch 22 years ago, which marked the city’s tricentennial.

Elsewhere in Virginia, First Night Winchester will offer many indoor activities in case the weather turns sour, said the event’s director, Christine Germeyer.

“We all sit with bated breath, waiting to get the weather reports, and the community does the same,” she said.

For the first time in 33 years, First Night Winchester is breaking tradition and handing out wristbands for entry instead of buttons, which have become collectors items for yearly visitors.

Although organizers are still making some souvenir buttons this year, Ms. Germeyer said they decided to use wrist bands to cut costs.

“You are asking the community to support you with volunteers, first responders, public services,” she said. “For churches and business to say we are going to have our doors open for the community. It can be a very big undertaking to do it year after year.”

Ms. Germeyer noted that years ago more than 200 cities hosted First Night events around the world, but now there are fewer than 35.

Boston hosted the original First Night celebration in 1975. Its organizers had wanted avoid alcohol and partying to instead focus on the local arts community.

Tuesday, organizers in Winchester will provide 14 hours of presentations and activities, including ballroom and swing dancing lessons, magicians, a ventriloquist and a reptile exhibit. At midnight, the drop of a giant apple will signal the start of the new year.

First Night Alexandria is one of the biggest New Year’s Eve events in the region, and it’s celebrating its 25th year of community and family festivities.

“We try to curate activities that will speak across the generations,” said Marilyn Patterson, director of First Night Alexandria.

Throughout the night, about 50 different entertainers will perform among the event’s various venues. For example, for the kids, there will be four different carnivals, face painters, balloon artists and jugglers. And for everybody, an Earth Wind and Fire tribute band will play, a comedy showcase will offer some laughs and a teen talent show will take place.

“It becomes an opportunity to showcase the multicultural nature of our city,” Ms. Patterson said. “Our group has worked very hard to curate performances that speak to the overall cultural experience Alexandria is known for.”

Meanwhile, for those who decide to party, there are ways to get home safely that don’t involve an expensive taxi ride.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program has partnered with Lyft to offer riders a free $15 ride on Dec. 31. The promotional code, though there is limited availability, for this offer will be posted on SoberRide.com at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Also Metrorail will open at 5 a.m. Tuesday and provide service on a regular weekday schedule, with special late-night service until 2 a.m. Wednesday.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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