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In my corner of Pennsylvania1 our local governments are really into dropping things to celebrate the coming of the new year.

As far as anybody can figure, the tradition of dropping things to mark the New Year began in New York City in the early 1900s. In Times Square in the heart of Manhattan, a lighted ball was lowered from a flagpole to mark the start of a new year. According to experts, marking the start of a new year with fireworks, horns, whistles and bells is supposed to be an Old World tradition to frighten away evil spirits. But dropping things from great heights is apparently an American invention.

And the notion has really taken hold of the collective psyche of the people living around me here in southcentral Pennsylvania.

It all started in my local area with the city of Harrisburg in the late 1980s when officials lowered an 8-foot high strawberry from a downtown high-rise. The strawberry doesn't have any special significance for the city other than the fact that a shopping mall across from the state capitol is named 'Strawberry Square'.

As the festivities grew, thousands flocked to the downtown area to ring in the New Year.

Other cities' business leaders saw all that money being spent in downtown Harrisburg and soon enough other cities in the area began hosting their own events.

Some of the towns celebrating the New Year with drops this year included:

  • Lancaster which drops a white rose;
  • York which drops a red rose;
  • Lebanon which drops a bologna;
  • New Bloomfield which drops a huckleberry;
  • Duncannon which drops a sled;
  • Elizabethtown which drops an M&M;
  • Hummelstown which drops a lollipop;
  • Dillsburg which drops a pickle;
  • And Falmouth which drops a goat.

OK, I'll try to explain a bit...

Lancaster and York are named after the famous houses in England's War of the Roses, so their dropping of large roses should be pretty self-evident.

Lebanon is famous for the production of the Pennsylvania Dutch treat Lebanon Bologna which is a sweet bologna, so dropping a 16-foot long tube of lunch meat was a perfect fit.

New Bloomfield, the county seat of Perry County, drops a huckleberry because in a state forest nearby is the famous box huckleberry plant which is reputed to be one of the oldest living things on earth.

Duncannon drops a sled because there is a famous sled factory in town there. Likewise, Elizabethtown is home to an M&M/Mars chocolate factory so they drop an imitation giant M&M candy. Hummelstown is home to a lollipop factory so naturally, they drop a 9-foot high sucker.

Dillsburg has nothing to do with pickles however. The town is named for its founder, an Ulster Scot immigrant who settled there in the 1740s. But over the years Dillsburg has made fun of its name with pickle-themed street festivals and alleys in town with pickle names.

And as for Falmouth in northwestern Lancaster County? A Goat?!?

Falmouth is home to the Falmouth Goat Races each September, an bizarre sporting event if ever there was one! It's a small village with a great sense of humour. One year when I was at the goat drop, the event organizers advertised that the musical entertainment would be provided by the 'Greg Good Trio' which turned out to be Township Secretary Greg Good playing CDs through his two speakers.

Another fact that they don't make all too clear until you arrive is that the goat in question is a stuffed animal that they lower from a flagpole. And yes, I did consider that they might lower a live goat in some kind of harness until I arrived and saw for myself what was going on!

The key ingredient in each of these events is a sense of fun. It's a great way to get out and celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one.

Most are alcohol-free, family-oriented events with dancing, music, games and entertainment. They're a lot like a community fair stuck in the middle of winter.

And if you're ever in the area on New Year's Eve, they're worth stopping by to ring in the New Year. It's not everybody who can say they celebrated the New Year with a giant pickle or goat!

Jimi X

09.01.03 Front Page

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1Actually, I live in the southcentral part of the state, 200 miles from the nearest corner, but let's not quibble over terms so early in this column...

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