top of page

Uncrowded: the First Nearly Deserted New Year's Eve in Times Square in Over a Century.

When the paper called The Times moved to its new building in the early 1900s, owner Adolph S. Ochs bestowed the area Times Square, and started a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration.

The tradition of a ball descending from atop One Times Square, however, officially began in 1907. Ever since, the event has only been canceled twice: in 1942 and 1943 as a consequence of post-Pearl Harbor blackout and dimouts precautions to prevent air raids during World War II.

Despite the cancelation of the ball drop, crowds still gathered and even took a moment of silence. When the crystal ball descended during the 2020 New Year’s Eve celebration, only 39 of 2020s many heroes—frontline workers, first responders, essential workers and their families—were invited to celebrate the farewell to the challenging year in Times Square.

More than just another New Year's Eve Celebration.

A New Year’s Eve in New York City had been a distant dream of mine; the idea of summer holidays and sandy beaches was more appealing to me. As do many, I often tend to make decisions to keep myself spinning in the same orbit, avoiding getting near the fringes of my comfort zone.

Nonetheless, the pandemic reminded me that we humans are extremely adaptable. I also recalled my early years in business school when I learned that opportunities rise amid challenging times.

Ergo, as the holiday season approached and I sought an alternative way to celebrate New Year’s Eve given that our entire family was growing weary of seclusion, I decided to reminisce about previous New Year’s Eve celebrations, to think laterally in an attempt to find a substantial option in view of the pandemic.

New Years Eve in Retrospect

Florianopolis, SC — Brazil, 2010

As fireworks flared up, lighting the space-blue sky and immediately drawing attention away from the horizon combining the skyline and ocean as if they were one, the old year shifted into a new one.

As the multitude straightaway divided their attention between observing the display of pyrotechnics and popping champagne bottles, they embraced one another and extended wishes of happiness, health, peace, love, and hope for a prosperous new year.

These vibrant, passionate, and energy-filled New Year’s Eve celebrations were, indeed, one of the things I most missed about Brazil when I moved to Kentucky. To me, more than a new set of possibilities, New Year’s Eve represented a hopeful moment to me; an opportunity I took to look up and plead that God would grant me some of my most desired wishes.

As years went by, with some of my requests already awarded, I found myself observing the year’s end silently in my new home. There was no sand, no ocean in sight. Not a single firework, nor a sense of collective human warmth; only chilly wind gusts and stillness. Besides, the lack of communal enthusiasm not only made me miss my home country tremendously, but it also helped me to realize that there's no such thing as perfection. There's no perfect place; no perfect life. Although there will always be something, it's all right. After all, happiness does not rely on perfection. Besides other factors, it originates from grit.

Even if my favorite festivity wasn't being celebrated in an ideal manner, I knew it was vital that I learned to adapt to my new world. One year, while comfortably stretched on my couch under a cozy blanket, I kept my eyes locked on the TV and the ball drop in Times Square. There were fireworks and people rejoicing . . . That's it! I quickly sat up in excitement. My eyes opened wide. A gap formed between my lips as I inhaled in disbelief.

"This is definitely the closest thing on American soil capable of making me feel just like home . . ." I whispered as if I had just made a substantial scientific discovery.

Once the broadcast was over, I was able to relax my tensed-up shoulders and I lay back down. About half past midnight, as my head started to weigh heavier on the couch's arm, an involuntary grin formed on my face as I thought of how wonderful it would be to spend a New Year’s Eve in Times Square with the exception of the excessive cold weather and shoulder-to-shoulder kind of crowd, of course. Regardless, I still dreamed of it.

As my eyelashes slowly reunited, my mind traveled far away with hopes that one day I would be able to be in Times Square. An inactive want for a long period of time, however . . .

A few years later, a Brazilian friend traveled to New York with the intent to watch the ball drop. After standing with the crowd for several hours in the cold and unable to use the restroom or else lose her spot, she decided to walk away. A few hours before the new year rang in, she headed to a club where she bid farewell to the old year.

Her account confirmed my fears: if the whole experience was a challenge even for her, whom I considered an easygoing person, I had no doubt it would be nearly impossible for me to truly enjoy the moment and not fly of the handle. Nevertheless, there was another possible option paragliding in the back of my head. An idea that would be, indeed, an excellent resolution: to watch the ball drop from the comfort of a hotel room.

It sounded like a perfect plan in my head; the problem would be affording a hotel room with a ball drop view. I must admit that my vision was a bit unrealistic—not to say ludicrous—considering the fact that during my one and only trip to New York City I had shared a room with 10 strangers at a hostel. Yet, reality didn't stop me from dreaming of it . . .

"The ball drop!" That's when New York came to mind. Besides, someone I knew had visited the city earlier in the year; due to the pandemic, airfare and hotels were reasonably priced.

New York City, December 2020

As my husband and I checked out options, we soon realized that a hotel room with a ball drop view was a real possibility for us!

While I believe most individuals would prefer to celebrate a major event such as New Year’s Eve in Times Square along with a multitude of people, I just couldn't be happier that another dream of mine was about to come true.

Once we arrived at our hotel, I was appalled to find that Times Square would be closed to the public. However, our hotel was part of the perimeter and guests would be able to witness the ball drop.

"On New Year’s Eve, be sure to take your ID and hotel card key when returning to the hotel, or the police won't let you back in," instructed the hotel clerk at the check-in desk.

Despite our excitement for the simple fact that we were finally in the city (besides finding out we would, in some small way, be part of an historical event), one of the greatest challenges while in New York was finding food—restaurants and indoor dinning had been shut down during the first half of December.

Since our hotel was by Times Square, we had a couple of take-out options. Some other tourists, however, ate outside fast food chains along in temperatures as low as 30F. Fortunately, we could take our meals to the hotel room and enjoy them while still warm. To our delight, we were also able to savor our food while observing the countdown clock before heading out again.

To find a table at a restaurant enclosure required thirty minutes standing in the cold. Even though some enclosure areas had heaters, they could barely create a sense of warmth. In most cases, their job was simply to spare the clientele from the frigid air blasting amid the tall buildings; one of the reasons standing in lines to get in stores was pleasurable, since we would be spared from the cold and our bodies warm enough to remove a couple of layers.

Although, if it was difficult for us tourists to find places to eat outdoors in the cold, I couldn't help but imagine what entrepreneurs were going through to remain in business. Honestly, I felt like I had nothing to complain about. It deeply saddened me to see so many stores closed. Even in Times Square, stores such as the Hard Rock Shop and GAP were shut. One of them temporarily; the other one, apparently, permanently.

While the entire experience made me admire the determination of restaurant owners, it was heartbreaking to witness the tremendous effort and investment made to simply survive in business, on top of all the losses compiled during the many months they were shut down.

On occasions when we spent the entire day out, we were able to find restaurants with patio enclosures (but on the street!) with heaters to keep the temperature bearable. During the day, after visiting the American Museum of Natural History, we headed toward Columbus Avenue, one block over in Central Park West. There we found an incredible Mediterranean restaurant. It wasn't warm enough to remove the heavy coats and my hands kept freezing while I delighted in my warm soup, but service was great and the food outstanding!

Surprisingly, the day after, during our first trip on the subway from 42nd Street toward South Ferry Station, we even had the entire train car to ourselves, making me realize why the office building across from our hotel was nearly empty every single day. Many companies are still allowing their workers to work at home. With that, riding the subway became extremely convenient and fun for us.

As New Years Eve approached, more and more barricades were spotted around the area

As I headed out for a run early on December 31, it was only after I went west toward 7th Ave. that I realized the only way to get to Central Park would be by heading south until I was able to find an unblocked area to finally move northeast. It was also nearly impossible to run in the small space along with other pedestrians and stationary camera crews between barricades and the walls of the buildings.

New Year's Eve morning at 44th St. facing 7th Ave.

After a late afternoon stroll around 5th Avenue, as we tried to return to the hotel once again, we had a hard time finding an access back to 6th Ave. There, a checkpoint with a group of police officers verified IDs and proof of our hotel room key was requested. A couple of food delivery workers ahead of us in line had to show proof of customer orders and delivery addresses.

Once my family and I were able to go through, we encountered another group of officers for a second clearing less than 10 feet away. One of the officers had a K-9 and handbags and backpacks were checked.

As we walked down the nearly empty street toward our hotel, we saw a vacant Times Square. At that point, a garbage truck and NYPD vehicle separated us from the police, blocking the entire street.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we noticed a couple of police officers hanging around the lobby while we waited for our turn to access the elevator. No more than two people were allowed in at a time, creating a long line of guests, just like us, returning from restaurants with dinner.

Shortly after arriving at our room, we were surprised by fireworks blasting at 6 p.m., when the Waterford Crystal Ball ascended the flagpole. Thereafter, every new hour was greeted similarly.

Anticipating the arrival of 2021, I spent most of my time glancing outside the window, mesmerized—not simply by the view—but by the idea of what my eyes were about to witness. As I observed my surroundings, I kept thinking that, most likely, watching the ball drop in Times Square while censoring all the elements might not be the same as viewing it from the other side of a glass window, but maybe, someday, the idea to live such experience will entice me to return . . .

When the anticipated moment finally arrived and we watched the ball descend, I realized that, in fact, it wasn't just like home. It felt different. Much better to many senses. I had peace and joy in my heart. Now, the years that set me apart from Brazil allowed me to rejoice simply by living in the moment. No sense of emptiness. No wishes to be requested. I was purely appreciating what God has given me and being thankful. An instant of reflection was interrupted by a shout of excitement:

"This is my favorite place ever!" My daughter yelled as she persistently jumped on the bed.
"What makes it so special?" I immediately snapped out of my contemplation, pleased with her happiness.
"Here is the only place I've seen with a ball that drops. I want to come back!"

Hearing the ecstasy in her voice and sensing the elation in her round, ocean-blue eyes made me smile. More than bringing my daughter closer to what felt like home to me, I was allowing her to create her very own memories, experiences she will be able to feel in her heart as home.

Meanwhile, all the excitement was nearly over, and once my daughter fell sleep, the thrill was just as raw in my essence. The joy was still blazing in my heart when I woke up the next day. When I opened the curtains, to my delight, I saw the crystal ball lit up once again. Certainly, an enchanting way to get the year started . . .

I stared at the sphere atop the number representing the beginning of a new year while sipping my latte (there was no café con leche to be found in Manhattan). Of course, there's always something . . . I reminded myself the importance of always finding new ways to enjoy and celebrate life. It is always possible to find pleasure in new experiences, mostly when we allow ourselves to add a new spectrum to our comfort zone. After all, the greater the extent of our comfort zone, the more space we have to explore, and consequently, to expand the area we call our safe place.

"Happy New Year!"

Also read: Chichen Itza: The "At the Mouth of the Well of Itza" Wonder of the World

bottom of page