State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

First Night New Year's Celebration Hits 20 Years

by on December 29, 2013 8:00 AM

Twenty years ago, a New Year's Eve celebration called First Night made its debut in State College.

Since then the event has grown in popularity and shows no signs of stopping.

First Night Director Rick Bryant sees the daylong celebration as an opportunity for the community to spend time together with the feel of a traditional small town.

"I think people like to be an old-fashioned downtown and State College has a very nice downtown," says Bryant. "This is a chance where it's risk free to enjoy it. You don't have to worry about parking ... it's sort of like of being in a town where Beaver Cleaver lived, just for a day, and people like to take advantage of it."

First Night is a massive, family-friendly downtown New Year's Eve celebration that features events from 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 to midnight on Jan. 1. This year is the 20th anniversary of the event in State College, which is modeled after a celebration that started in Boston in 1976.

State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham says First Night "brings people in our community together in a different way, to play together like a giant family. We listen to music, watch a play, see a magician, drink hot chocolate, admire the ice sculptures, see children sliding down an ice slide (and) maybe try it ourselves, write down our New Year's resolutions, or hopes for the year. Everything organized for our enjoyment."

Goreham says her husband, Jack, and she will participate in the First Night 5K for the second year in a row.

Nearly all outdoor festivities are free. A $10 button allows access to all indoor performances and concerts. Click HERE for more information.

Over the last 20 years, the event has expanded to offer more entertainment. In the beginning, the only venue options were churches. But now, venues have expanded to State College Municipal Building, The State Theatre and Penn State Downtown Theatre.

This year there will be a line up of jazz, bluegrass, folk, classical and bagpipe music.

"Now we can present a much wider variety of entertainment," says Bryant.

One of the most popular aspects of First Night is the ice sculptures.

"I think people appreciate watching a piece of ice transform into the Statue of Liberty right before your eyes," Bryant says.

Large ice sculptures will be in the 100 block of South Allen Street. Smaller sculptures will be in Sidney Friedman Park, on the Municipal Building Plaza, and in front of sponsoring businesses and churches downtown.

Other features include, a carriage ride, which is $5 with a button; live reindeer; a procession of giant papier mache puppets; art workshops for kids; and a nighttime 5k run/walk.

As part of tradition, at one of First Night's resolution sculptures, you can declare your resolutions for the New Year.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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