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The best known New Year’s Eve attraction in New York City is at Times Square: it’s the “ball drop”. A big, brightly lit sphere is hoisted to the top of a pole and drops as the clock strikes 12. Officially, you can’t drink on the streets in New York. But you might notice people with beer cans in brown paper bags, cocktails secreted in McDonald’s cups and booze in hip flasks. As you can imagine, Times Square gets pretty busy and touristy. Brooklyn is a good alternative. There are fireworks and live music at Grand Army plaza, at the north end of Prospect Park, from 11pm. But there’s more to do than watch fireworks explode and balls drop. If, like me, you don’t mind being a hipster stereotype, there’s a number of warehouse parties around Brooklyn’s Bushwick and Williamsburg areas. My plan is to go to one until as late as possible. Then, on New Year’s Day, engage in a different type of New York tradition: the Coney Island Polar Bear club New Year’s Day swim. It’s a swim in the Atlantic, first thing in the morning. I think it will be cold.
The archetypal Madrid New Year’s Eve plan is to squeeze into the heaving Puerta del Sol square and, when the clocktower chimes midnight, swallow 12 lucky grapes and roar “feliz año nuevo”. But the reality for most is more homely, and more fun. Come midnight, families and friends – after a seafood, jamón and perhaps lamb feast – watch the clocktower countdown on their living room TV and choke on those lucky grapes together (I’ll be at the in-laws). Midnight is a crescendo of cava clinks and – outside – firecracker armageddon. But we’re just warming up. At 12:01 bars open and we flood the streets, dancing and drinking until that most madrileño all-nighter climax: queuing in the cold dawn for deep-fried churros and warm chocolate solace.
Ringing in the new year in Stockholm is all about your vantage point. Sweden’s photogenic capital sprawls across 14 islands with a labyrinth of waterways, and on New Year’s Eve, its streets are filled with families bundled up in thick coats with stashes of glögg (mulled wine), pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies), and bubbly cider. They head up to some of the best spots, such as Monteliusvägen on Södermalm with marvellous views of Mälaren lake, Gamla stan, Riddarholmen and the City Hall on Kungsholmen; Fåfangan with views towards Gamla stan and Djurgården; and Skinnarviksberget with panoramic views of Riddarfjärden and Kungsholmen – then they await fireworks popping across each island, lighting up the winter sky.
Even though Buenos Aires is revered for its lively nightlife, year-end celebrations tend to be quite tame and family oriented. In the hot and humid summer locals go to the beach, while those who stick in town gather with family and friends for a meat asado (barbecue) feast, with lots of sparkling cider, red wine, and Fernet (an amoratic bitter) with Coke. When midnight strikes, I make sure to find my way high on a rooftop for a festival of light. The Porteño skyline illuminates with a colourful spectacle, and residents (dangerously) shoot fireworks from balconies and terraces. Shouts of “Feliz Año Nuevo” and even fútbol chants ricochet off the concrete buildings.