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Boston seniors ring in New Year early

It happens four days early. There’s no champagne. And the countdown is at noon.

But at their age, midnight is overrated.

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The city of Boston’s annual early-bird New Year, the First Night Senior Celebration, is the hottest ticket of the year on the senior social calendar, a raging party, relatively speaking, that drew 2,600 people to the Seaport World Trade Center Thursday.

Now in its 22d year, the gathering, which is hosted by the city’s Elderly Commission, featured live performances, a free turkey dinner, and a rowdy version of The Electric Slide.

“It’s hard to get them off the dance floor,” said Tula Mahl, deputy commissioner of communications for the Elderly Commission. “This is the event our seniors look forward to the most, and it’s a way for them to celebrate the New Year without being out at night. They don’t ­really like to go out at night.”

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The event has a decidedly sweet tone, with young people performing old-timey music and couples slow-dancing as if they had just met. “This next song I’m sure you’ll remember,” a young man in a shiny red suit announced as he led a band called Mixed Emotions into an old standard by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Dina Rudick/Globe staff

Vinnie McDonough of Dorchester took photos of his friends among the crowd of 2,300 seniors at the New Year’s party.

“I love this event because it’s a chance to see people you ­haven’t seen in a while,” said Bessie L. Payne, who had come from West Roxbury with a friend, Patricia Lester of ­Brighton. The two were sitting at the kids table; they’re only in their 60s.

“There are people we see here every year, and unfortunately, the next time, you might not see them,” Lester said. “We’re able to come, so we have to come. Some seniors can’t. Others are gone.”

Walking through the tables is like a tour of the city’s diverse cultures, with every neighborhood and seemingly every country present and partying.

Peg Crowe, 67, of South Boston, was sitting at a table just off the dance floor, bopping along to the music.

“Any day that you can have food and fun, how can you not love it?” she said as she smiled at the people getting down to the music. “And it’s free. If it’s free, it’s for me. They just prove that if you move it, you don’t lose it.”

Irene McCall of Allston, who has seen 87 New Years, said the event was a nice treat. But she said the music did not go back far enough for her, to her youth of dancing to Frank ­Sinatra and Dean Martin.

With her 88th birthday coming next month, she said, her New Year’s resolution will be what it always is: “To be good. And just live. Stay alive for ­another one.”

It was a joke many people made — it was hard to find someone who didn’t include it among their resolutions — but a sad truth to the event. As a report­er made the rounds, many people wanted to talk about friends who had not made it to this year’s party. All around was the wide swath of the golden years, from the frisky flirts on the dance floor, to the frail woman in a wheelchair who was being fed soft food from a jar by her husband. It was bittersweet, just like New Year’s itself, a time to look forward and a time to remember.

But the blue plastic top hats and the paper horns on the ­tables were a reminder that this was a party, a New Year’s party. While the chief point of the countdown is to ­announce the start of lunch, many were partying like tweens. Each time the conga line broke, a new one sprang up.

And like many a New Year’s party, there was a couple arguing in the corner of the hall ­after a reporter had asked ­Matilda Marun of West Roxbury for her age.

“I’m 74,” she said.

“You’re 75,” her husband, Chaiban Marun, interjected.

“No, I’m 74,” she said. “You’re 85, so I’m 74.”

“If I’m 85, then you’re 75,” he replied.

“Fine, I’m 75,” she said as she rolled her eyes at him. “I don’t care.”

Then she turned toward the reporter and said they needed to do something about the ­music. She wanted to dance, but didn’t much care for this “new stuff.”

At that moment, the DJ was playing disco.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
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