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First Night preparations draw hundreds to downtown Boston

Fireworks display during the city’s First Night celebration on Boston Common viewed from Suffolk University’s Rosalie K. Stahl Center.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Thousands of people filled Copley Square and Boston Common on Saturday to bid goodbye to 2016 and celebrate First Night with gleaming ice sculptures of sea monsters and fishermen, face painting, waltzing lessons, bursting fireworks, and a parade.

“People are happy for the first day of the year,” said Fabricia Silveira, who makes the New Year’s Eve trip from Revere into Boston with her family every year. Nearby, her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, bundled up in hats and puffy jackets, checked out a USS Constitution ice sculpture.

Around 300,000 people were expected to attend Boston’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, according to officials for Conventures Inc., the event planning firm that organized First Night for the second year in a row. All events, which began early on Saturday and were scheduled to last into the early morning hours of 2017, were free.


“We wanted to make it more accessible . . . so that everyone can come and enjoy the diverse cultural activities,” said Emily Young, a coordinator for Conventures. “That was something we did last year and we really liked it.”

Marchers take part in First Night festivities in Copley Square.(Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Amid the revelry, there was also reflection on more sobering moments of 2016.

A group of Boston ministers called for houses of worship, businesses, and homes to keep their lights on all night, a symbolic call for a new year free of street violence.

“We want to light up the community, so the entire community embraces the call for a cease-fire,” the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester, said on Saturday. “Whether it’s in Dorchester, whether it’s in East Boston, or Mattapan, we want this message for a cease fire to take hold all across the city.”

In Copley, some celebrants lamented the sharp and bitter tone national politics took in 2016, and said they were hoping for civility going forward.


Others reflected on their personal joy, while expressing worry for the larger world. Qalit and Amirh Alanazi, a Springfield couple in their 20s who stood together in Copley watching the festivities, are expecting a baby in the first week of January. While a baby will bring a sweet start to 2017, they worry for the people of Syria, who have suffered terribly, they said.

“I hope 2017 will be safer for children and women,” Qalit said.

But despite the swirl of anxieties many felt in 2016, the mood in Copley was ebullient. A daylong concert played on a stage set up in front of Trinity Church, kicking off just after noon with a high energy hip hop performance by OrigiNation. The music was slated to last through the final countdown.

The annual “People’s Parade” stepped off from Copley Square at 6 p.m.with marching bands, fire trucks, a Chinese lion dance troupe, stilt-walkers, and marchers in bright Caribbean feathered costumes. Families dressed in sparkling headgear and flashing 2017 glasses, watched along Boylston Street.

Dancers from the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Asssociation.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“It’s great to see so many people out with their families, young and old,” said Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, who stood with her daughter and two granddaughters. “I always try to bring the kids out for this part of the celebration. It’s a real tradition in the Simmons family.”

At 7 p.m. a fireworks display sponsored by the Mugar Foundation began exploding over Boston Common, filling the sky with white, green, pink, and red shimmering bursts and startling the crowd, provoking a collective gasp.


When the display ended 12 minutes later with a giant array of simultaneous explosions, the effect was so startling that it shocked some children into tears.

“It was scary,” said 9-year-old Tori Bates, of Winthrop, who nevertheless kept her cool and didn’t cry even as some other children in her family group began to weep.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“That was the best yet,” said her grandmother, Nancy Comeau, 66, of Lynn. “It was intense.”

There were no fireworks at midnight over Boston Harbor this year, but a pyrotechnics display was planned for a countdown to the New Year in Copley Square.

Copley Square pulsed with activity all day, with families snacking on soft pretzels and stocking up on plastic horns to blow at midnight. Families posed for photos in front of ice sculptures depicting such New England icons as the USS Constitution and the Gloucester fisherman statue.

The Tuttle family of Newton arrived early on Saturday to watch workers chisel the final touches on the sculptures.

“They’re fun to watch get built in front of your eyes,” said Will Tuttle, 31, who stood with his wife, Courtney, and three-year-old son, Liam.

Boston and State Police said there were no specific threats to First Night in Boston or Massachusetts, though both agencies said they planned a heavy and visible presence.

“We have plenty of officers out here,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said at a 5 p.m. press briefing held at the corner of Dartmouth Street and St. James Avenue.


Some officers were in uniform, while others were working undercover, he said.

After the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, the city increased First Night security by blocking off streets with police cruisers and city dump trucks.

This year, mindful of terrorist attacks in Berlin and Nice, France, during public events, police are more vigilant, Evans said.

“Any large scale event, I don’t care where it is, you just got to take the extra precautions and make sure the area is well locked down,” he said.

The police commissioner encouraged people to celebrate the First Night festivities in Copley Square and the Common, but warned revelers to be smart with their alcohol consumption.

“Leave the alcohol at home,” Evans said. “It looks to be a great night, and we’re looking forward to a large crowd coming out.”

Michael Moran and his daughter Eleanor, 4, enjoying the First Night entertainment earlier in the day. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Olivia Arnold can be reached at olivia.arnold@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @olivia_arnold12. Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen @globe.com.