Evangeline Lyons, 2, wrapped both hands around the tube of 3D glitter glue and squeezed, digging her elbows into the tablecloth and wrinkling her nose until the cardboard crown was lined with sapphire sparkles.
“That looks good,” her father, Sean, said to the chair as she darted off to look at her brother’s Kung-Fu Panda-inspired lanyard.
They came for the magician, and stayed for the crafts, he said, of their decision to count down 2012 at the 31st annual First Night Virginia.
“It’s good to have something to do with the kids,” he said. “You can kind of get cabin fever sitting around inside during the holidays.”
More than 4,000 people flooded the Downtown Mall on Monday night to welcome 2013 in family-friendly style. Roughly 200 people kicked off the festivities at 9 a.m. with a 5K fun run through the downtown area.
A family of jugglers, magician David Bishop and a small army of paint and glue-wielding volunteers helped keep children and their parents busy from 3 p.m. until the ball dropped.
Although the stages were reserved for the Charlottesville Ballet, Eli Cook Band and the Groove Train – to name a few – the main event was a raucous parade of families and children showing off their bedazzled hats. The line stretched from the event’s ground zero at the Omni Hotel to a waiting panel of bubble wrap.
“We have drums, noisemakers, whistles … we’re going to be super obnoxious this year,” said Cindy Adams, treasurer of First Night Virginia, the non-profit group that organizes the festival.Charlottesville adopted the ‘first night’ block party concept in 1983, making it the second such celebration in America, according to the group’s website. The trend has since spread across the state and around the country.
Planning for the next year’s event begins in January with a breakdown of what worked or didn’t work in December.
“We’ve had some hiccups,” Adams said, noting that the celebration almost died off several years ago due to a lack of funding.
The group started giving paid guests wristbands instead of buttons – a $3,700 savings – and scaled back the entertainment.
“We keep a snowy day fund just in case,” Adams said. “It’s just super important for any area to have a safe, community-friendly alternative on New Year’s.”
The worst they’ve dealt with recently are late performers and deflating bouncy houses.
“It’s fun, it’s exciting and anything can happen. Anything,” she said.
The games and laughs are what keep Bob Sanders and his son and daughter coming back year after year. Sanders enjoyed a break at the Key Recreation Center as Erin Sanders, 6, got a glittery unicorn painted on her cheek.
“My wife and I both work at UVa Health System, and this makes it possible for us to do anything on New Years,” he said, noting that most babysitters are booked months in advance for the holiday. “It’s a wonderful alternative, it really is.”
First-time first-nighter Kelly Lindauer agreed.“We don’t have a babysitter, so when my friend asked us to meet up with her and her son I thought, ‘Great,’” she said. “We’re making a crown for [my friend’s son] now.”
“This one’s for me,” 3-year-old Olive Lindauer chimed in, pointing to the letters O-L-I-V-E spelled out in – what else? – glitter.