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Beyond the ball drop: a pickle, pine cones and a MoonPie will mark the new year

Workers test the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in New York.
Cindy Ord
Getty Images
Workers test the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in New York.

Confetti, champagne, fireworks are some of the staples of a New Year's Eve celebration. But just as iconic may be the tradition of lowering or raising an object to ring in the new year.

The Times Square ball drop in New York City is among the most famous examples, but the ritual is also preformed around the country with some local flavor: It's not just with spheres — a duck decoy, a MoonPie and a pickle are all used to hail the end of 2023.

In Havre de Grace, Md., which is northeast of Baltimore, people count down to 2024 by watching a dazzling duck decoy sink down from the sky. The light fixture pays homage to the city's storied history of fishing and affinity for duck decoys so much so that Havre de Grace calls itself the "Decoy Capital of the World."

In the same vein, for the past 23 years, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company has staged the descent of a giant pickle on New Year's Eve in its hometown of Mt. Olive, N.C. The installation is raised and lowered with the help of the local volunteer fire department's ladder truck. It was originally attended by only a handful of the company's employees, but today, thousands gather to watch.

People in Mobile, Ala., greet the new year by viewing something sweeter — a 600-pound, 12-foot-tall electronic MoonPie. The s'more-like treat was originally made in Tennessee, but became a favorite across the South. Likewise, the Alabama tradition not only draws locals, but thousands from the Gulf Coast.

"In the years since it started, it's become the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the Central Time Zone," said Matt Anderson, who was the special projects manager for the city of Mobile in 2019.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., married couple Sam Green and Henry Taylor, who own the Weatherford Hotel, dropped a plastic garbage can covered inpine cones and lights in 1999 in part to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the hotel. Today, the pinecone is well-lit, metallic and about 6 feet tall. What began with about 500 spectators has grown to thousands in recent years, Grace told NPR in 2019.

"Now we've created a monster! It just gets bigger and bigger," Green said jokingly.

Along the West Coast, the city of Temecula in Southern California welcomes the new year by lowering a set of luminous, oversized grapes — a symbol of the city's 33,000 acres of wine country.

In Seattle, the final moments of 2023 are marked by fireworks launching off of the Space Needle. The observation tower has long stood to represent the city's innovative and forward-thinking spirit.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.