Encore: New Years’ Traditions

Alexis McCrossen, a professor at SMU and an expert on how cultures have marked time in history, Joins Tim to talk about our New Year’s Eve traditions with a special focus on the story behind that Times Square Ball Drop. This episode was first released on December 24, 2018.

New Years

If you plan to watch the Times Square ball-drop at Midnight on New Year’s Eve, you’re not alone.  New York City expects to play host to over 2 million people for the festivities.

  • Over 175 million across the United States will watch the ball drop on TV.
  • And around the world, over 1 billion people will watch.
  • 103 million said they will travel 30 miles or more to celebrate
  • 93.6 million will drive

When we think of New Year’s Eve, we often think of Times Square and parties at organized events, bars and restaurants, but I have some interesting statistics, thanks to WalletHub from last year:

  • 49% celebrate the holiday at home
  • 9% at a bar, restaurant, or organized event
  • 23% don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve
  • 30% said they fall asleep before Midnight
  • 61% said they say a prayer on New Year’s Eve.


  1. Christmas 78%
  2. Thanksgiving 74%
  3. Independence Day 47%
  4. New Year’s Eve 41%

Most Popular New Year’s Eve Destinations

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Orlando
  3. New York City

More Times Square Stats

  • 7,000 police officers in Times Square
  • 1.5 tons of confetti dropped
  • 280 sanitation workers will clean up 40-50 tons of trash.
  • The ball itself – Waterford Crystal Triangles – 11,875 pounds

That’s today. Let’s talk about the history:

  • For 4,000 years people have marked a New Year
  • Public bells would herald the New Year since the Middle Ages
  • Theaters, taverns and other places would be very busy on the night
  • Rituals meant to augur good fortune.
  • 1900 or so, the moment of Midnight became the focus because cities were illuminated with gas and electric lights. (Times Square)
  • Installation of public clocks and bells

The Countdown

  • 1907/08 was the first year to drop an illuminated time ball at the moment of the New Year’s arrival.
  • Uses a flag pole atop One Times Square.
  • First one was made of iron and wood and had 25-watt light bulbs. 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds.
  • When radio and television media emerged, New Year’s Eve was a made for broadcast media event. Live coverage.


About this Episode’s Guest Alexis McCrossen

Alexis McCrossen is a professor of history at Southern Methodist University and has devoted her career as a cultural historian to studying how Americans observe the passage of time. She is the author of Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sundayand Marking Modern Times: Clocks, Watches and Other Timekeepers in American Life.