New England New Year Traditions: First Night & First Hikes

New England New Year Traditions: First Night & First Hikes

Many family-friendly New Year’s celebrations offer a range of opportunities to not only celebrate, but also to explore by inviting families to visit many locations or landmarks in their local communities.  These celebrations includes performances, art shows, hands-on activities, ceremonies and sometimes food!  Such events encourage Western Massachusetts residents to engage their local community and experience it from new perspectives.  The exploratory aspect of such events provides a place-based element to the cultural learning that New Year’s celebrations foster.  Participants can solidify their sense of place as they learn about and become a part of a local culture, tradition and heritage.  Moving through the local landscape offers insight and understanding of home, place and the meaning of local identity and culture.


First Night

A contemporary New England tradition, First Night is celebrated throughout the region but began in Massachusetts with Boston hosting the first First Night in 1975.  Today, towns all over New England celebrate the new year with community festivities including live music shows, gallery openings, art activities, performances and more.  In Western Massachusetts, several towns host First Night celebrations as a way to connect community, support the local economy, and preserve the local history that makes this region unique and special.  Northampton, in particular, organizes a large First Night celebration that includes a full schedule of events and activities.

During a First Night celebration, participants usually pay for a button to wear that allows them to discover all that the festival has to offer. You can expect to explore the local character of a town through its art community and civic organizations.  Many First Night festivities include live performances of dance and music as well as gallery show openings of local artists’ work. Attending First Night events helps to support the arts in a community while connecting interests with the repeating patterns of seasonal celebrations.

First Night Northampton – Northampton, MA
In downtown Northampton, First Night Northampton is host to a variety of venues, performances, art and activities. Afternoon activities are family friendly with fireworks at 6pm and an evening filled with activities for an older audience.

First Night Jr. –  Holyoke, MA
An afternoon event on New Year’s Eve for families. Past activities have included magic shows, world class juggling, face painting, balloon sculpture and special craft activities.

Starry Starry Night  – Orange, MA
Annual celebration throughout Orange that includes live performances, outdoor activities, and fireworks.


First Hikes

Another popular event to ring in the New Year is a first hike.  Many local land trusts and conservation organizations organize these hikes as a way to engage folks outdoors in the winter season.  Starting off the new year by connecting to nature is refreshing and energizing.  Below are a few local organizations that offer first hikes on January 1st.  When enjoying your first hike, consider taking a notebook with you.  Typically New Year’s is a time of reflection, contemplation and setting intentions for the new year.  While outdoors in the woods, consider spending some time to journal and reflect.

Annual Organized First Hikes

Williamsburg Woodland Trails – Williamsburg, MA
Hike along the Petticoat Hill Reservation/Locke’s Loop Trail.  The hike goes through 100-year old forest and shows signs of past land use – there are stone walls, cellar holes and old foundations of early farmsteads.

DAR State Forest – Goshen, MA
Department of Conservation and Recreation hosts this hike.  Meet at the Warming Hut and hike along the edge of Upper Highland Lake.  All ages are welcome on this free 1.5 mile hike.  Start off the new year with healthy habits, like exercising and spending time outdoors.

Great Falls Discovery Center – Turners Falls, MA
Join the Great Falls Discovery Center and the Department of Conservation and Recreation for a free, leisurely two-mile stroll along the canal.  Explore the natural, culture and historical signs around Turners Falls.

Kestrel Land Trust – Amherst & Northampton, MA


Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.

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