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Boston greets new year with First Night

Isabel Lord, 16, of Boston, took in a skating performance at the colorfully lit Frog Pond during the city’s 38th First Night celebration.Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Throngs of First Night revelers braved the cold early Wednesday and brought in the New Year under a dazzling midnight fireworks display that lit up the sky over Boston Harbor.

"Boston at night is gorgeous," Julia Shearer, 47, of Philadelphia, said as she watched the display with her family. "Gorgeous."

The pyrotechnics capped a full day of live music, stunning ice sculptures, and other arts and cultural offerings that had the city bustling for the 38th consecutive year.

One of the evening's highlights was the traditional parade down Boylston Street.

Chinese lions, Revolutionary-era pipers and drummers, unicyclists, giant toucans, and dancing dinosaurs thrilled families with wide-eyed children and young couples looking forward to a New Year's kiss.


Confetti floated on winter winds as outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino and his wife, Angela, rode down the street on the first float, belonging to Teamsters Local 125.

Then came marchers bearing flags, wearing angel wings, and walking on stilts. A dragon dance troupe from the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association was also part of the procession.

Children with balloons, painted faces, and lit-up headgear brushed elbows with couples dressed in sparkling finery as revelers sped through the biting cold to their various celebrations.

Rachel Neuwirth, 49, of Somerville, gave the parade high marks.

"It was awesome," she said. "I liked the Chinese dragon guys."

Her friend, Kathy Blythe, 62, praised Menino for helping to make the event a reality after financial troubles almost shut it down.

"It almost fell through, so I just say three cheers for him," Blythe said.

The future of First Night, which started nearly 40 years ago in Boston and has spread across the country, had been in doubt after the nonprofit that for decades hosted the event ceased operations in June.

But with a boost from Menino and the support of some big-name corporations and nonprofit organizations, the extravaganza returned.


In addition to the parade, festivities included an ice skating show on Frog Pond on the Common, a puppet theater performance at the Hynes Convention Center, and a concert from the famed rocker and memoirist Patti Smith, according to the official schedule.

Smith gave a rousing performance at the Convention Center, playing her classic "Dancing Barefoot" and other fan favorites including "Because the Night" and "Free Money."

"So it's the end of the year," she said before launching into a two-song tribute to rock icon Lou Reed, who died in October. "We're all so grateful to be here, and we salute our dear departed ones."

First Night organizers this year also unveiled the first-ever Boston Marathon-themed ice sculpture in Copley Square near the finish line, to celebrate the city's resilience in the aftermath of the April 15 bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260.

Karen Brody, 57, of Watertown, said along the parade route that it was exciting to celebrate in Boston, especially after the city endured a devastating attack. "It's great to see this spirit after this last year," Brody said.

Acting Police Commissioner William Evans had pledged Monday to beef up the police presence, especially along the parade route and nearby streets. He had added that "plenty of bomb assets" would be on hand as a precaution.

Those security measures were visible, as uniformed officers in reflective yellow vests strolled streets, mingling with the festive crowd.


A police spokeswoman said she had no reports of any First Night-related arrests as of late Tuesday night.

An earlier fireworks display began promptly at 7 p.m. over Boston Common, opening with a matched set of brilliant white starbursts that excited small children and terrified at least one dog held by its owner on a leash at the edge of the park.

Thousands of eyes turned skyward in shut-down sections of Boylston and Charles streets, cheering for the blasts. Couples stood arm in arm, and some spectators, including at least one uniformed Boston police officer, held smartphones aloft to capture images or videos of the display.

"It was intense!" shouted 10-year-old Sophie Routenberg, of Arlington, after the 12-minute display concluded with a dazzling flourish.

Blythe, the attendee who credited Menino with helping to save the festival, said she moved to the Boston area from Britain in 1975 and made it to one of the earliest First Night celebrations. She has attended almost every one since.

"I grew up in England, and trust me, they wouldn't have anything like this there," she said. "It's just really special."

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at