RALEIGH — First Night Raleigh drew what appeared to be a record number of revelers downtown for circus-themed fun on New Year’s Eve.
Organizers expected the Monday crowd to top 100,000 for the first time in the history of the 22-year-old family friendly celebration. Two giant acorn drops – one at 7 p.m. and the other at midnight, of course – were highlights, as well as acrobats, flying trapeze artists and clowns. The fest also offered opera singers, jump-ropers, ballroom dancers and even yoga classes for those who wanted a serene start to 2013.
Aniyah Jones, 8, of Raleigh, had something else in mind.
“I’m going to make noise,” proclaimed Jones, showing off a wand of streamers and a rocket-shaped noisemaker she had constructed from recycled materials outside the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “I just like to make noise, cause it’s New Year’s Eve.”
Her mother, Alicia Terrell, wasn’t deterred by the chilly wind as she watched her daughter’s creative pursuits.
“I love the atmosphere,” she said. “I love that the kids have fun. It’s family fun.”
Nearby, crown-wearing boys brandished swords and capes as they prepared for the People’s Procession, a parade of the masses led by giant puppets.
Fayetteville Street featured a Ferris wheel, carnival games and vendors selling sugary, greasy confections, as well as hot chocolate. Families crowded around booths selling horns, cowbells and wands with spinning lights for the little celebrants.
“It’s like a miniature state fair,” said Mavis Davis of Cary, who waited in line for the Ferris wheel with her husband, Jeff and sons Anderson, 9, and Parker, 6, who were somehow under the impression that they were staying up until midnight.
“No, we’re not staying here until 12 o’clock,” Davis informed her sons. Once they watched the first acorn drop at 7 p.m., the family planned to leave downtown.
“After that,” Davis said, “it gets to be a little more grown-up.”
So before music cranked up for the late-night crowds at venues around downtown, the Davis family was headed to the warmth of a house party given by friends.
The event was perhaps just the ticket to say goodbye to 2012, a year in which Americans suffered through Hurricane Sandy and the mass school shooting in Connecticut.
“It’s been a rough year for a lot of people,” said Terri Dollar, program director for the event. “It’s great that First Night Raleigh is the kind of event that brings people together, makes people feel good about their community ... makes people smile.”
Barbara Stafford and her daughter, Devon Myers, 8, were all smiles when they got off the Jumbo Drop, an elevator-like ride that climbed as high as Fayetteville Street buildings and then gave its passengers – and their stomachs – a stunning free fall.
“It was freaky; it was good,” Stafford said, as her daughter clung to her afterwards.
Then Stafford, of Vancouver, British Columbia, gave a Canadian thumbs-up: “That was fun, eh?”