Every Dec. 31, throngs of revelers eager to ring in a new year crowd into New York City's Times Square. In the final minute of the year, as the clock ticks away seconds toward midnight, an opulent, oversized ball descends from above — and when it reaches its destination, the crowd cheers. Happy New Year!
The New Year's ball drop has its roots in naval history, inspired by the time balls introduced in the early 1800s. These devices were affixed to towers in coastal towns and would drop a ball at a precise moment of the day to alert nearby ship captains when to precisely set their navigational tools, called chronometers. The current New Year's tradition is a particularly American affair, and the Times Square ball drop has inspired numerous imitators around the country, and even around the world. Here are some of the most surprising things people drop to ring in the new year.
1. Bologna Drop in Lebanon, Pennsylvania
For more than two decades, a city in central Pennsylvania has celebrated the turn of the calendar by dropping a massive bologna. The spiced tube meat is popular in the region, and Lebanon, Pennsylvania, is home to several producers. Plus, there's an annual bologna festival every January. For the first 20 years of the New Year's event, a single 200-pound (91-kilogram) bologna would be lowered by an industrial crane right before midnight. In 2016, though, the tradition shifted from one massive bologna to 20 individual blocks of bologna weighing in at 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) each. The reason for the change? The organizers of the annual event donated the meat to charities after the drop, and it took too long in the hours after midnight to slice up one gigantic bologna.
2. Onion Drop in St. George's, Bermuda
Revelers who spend New Year's Eve in remote Bermuda don't just get to celebrate a few hours before most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere. They get to watch a gigantic onion drop at the stroke of midnight. Musicians, artists, street food vendors and other performers liven up King's Square. St. George's, founded in 1612, was Bermuda's first English settlement, and the Atlantic island became a major producer and exporter of onions. A glittering golden onion covered in light bulbs descends above the square, which overlooks Hamilton Harbour, and a laser show and fireworks traditionally follow the event.
3. Opossum Drop in Brasstown, North Carolina
These toothy, cranky critters are best known as nighttime nuisances — and more often than not, roadkill — across the American South. But the town of Brasstown, North Carolina, has celebrated an annual possum drop for more than a quarter century. To be fair, it's more of an 'opossum lowering' than it is a drop, but the annual ritual's been performed at the Clay's Corner gas station and corner store since the early 1990s. The store itself closed in recent years, but the celebration persists, complete with bluegrass music and a drag pageant accompanying the controlled descent of a North American opossum (Didelphis virginiana). Brasstown's isn't the only possum drop in the country; an opposing one takes place every year in nearby Tallapoosa, Georgia.
4. Giant Peep Drop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
The folks of Pennsylvania are a creative bunch. In addition to the bologna that drops in Lebanon, less than two hours away the city of Bethlehem celebrates with an enormous Peep drop that wraps up two days of celebration known as PeepsFest. The sugary (and divisive) marshmallow confection is generally produced in the shape of a bird, and it's most common in U.S. stores around the Easter holiday. Just Born, the Bethlehem-based candy company responsible for Peeps, also makes Mike & Ikes and Hot Tamales. The giant Peep dropped on New Year's Eve weighs 400 pounds (181 kilograms).
5. A Two of Clubs Drop in Show Low, Arizona
This central Arizona locale gets its unique name from its days as a frontier town without a name. Two rival cowboys and ranch co-owners named Corydon E. Cooley and Marion Clark were playing an extended game of poker, and the loser would vacate the city, letting the other keep hundreds of acres of land. The deciding hand in who would stay and who would go, according to city lore, would belong to whichever cowboy could "show low" by holding the lowest-value card possible — and the winner turned over a two of clubs. These days, not only is the city's main street named Deuce of Clubs, but Show Low drops a colossal illuminated playing card every Dec. 31, just a block away from where a statue commemorating the card game once stood. (Accidentally burned down during a candlelight vigil in 2016, the fiberglass statue is being replaced by a bronze one. Here's to a safe and flame-free New Year's Eve!)