PORTSMOUTH — What keeps the city’s First Night celebration coming back annually when other New Year’s Eve events have failed to do so?
“Sheer force of will,” said Antje Bourdages, board president of Pro Portsmouth, the organization that puts on the highly-anticipated downtown festivities each year.
First Night Portsmouth is the last “First Night” event remaining in New Hampshire, and on Tuesday night, the responsibility to continue on glimmered and sparkled through a diverse array of programming at different venues across the city.
The family friendly-event attracts thousands to Market Square as an alcohol-free, community celebration featuring music, entertainment and children’s activities.
“Events like this take months of preparation,” said Bourdages, whose parents started the Pro Portsmouth nonprofit in 1977. “There’s a lot that goes into it to make it what appears to be a seamless event.”
Bourdages estimated Tuesday’s celebration would sell around 2,000 buttons, not accounting for those who would join in Market Square for the free offerings.
In addition to First Night, Pro Portsmouth is also behind Market Square Day, Children’s Day and Summer in the Street events.
Barbara Massar, executive director of Pro Portsmouth, said crowds were looking forward to the custom ice sculpture scene in front of North Church, and the 7:30 p.m. fireworks display.
“We have a real eclectic mix of music and entertainment this year, both returning and new,” Massar said.
Bourdages said she loves the “local flavor” of Portsmouth’s First Night. She cited a performance from a smaller group of the Seacoast Wind Ensemble as one of the most popular events, for example.
Both Bourdages and Massar remarked they were thankful for the positive weather developments, considering just one day before the Seacoast region was hit with heavy sleet and freezing rain.
“Everything is underway and thankfully the weather has cooperated,” Massar said. “Twenty-four hours ago things didn’t look so good.”
Bourdages laughed, “We all were having conniptions last night.”
The only offering impacted by the weather was the New Hampshire Astronomical Society’s stargazing event, due to cloudy skies.
This year’s ice sculpture, which was carved in just a mere few hours in the heart of Market Square, featured a chiseled and detailed depiction of the North Church steeple, and a design combining stars, the sun and moon. Passersby dressed in hats and mittens admired the sculpture from behind fencing, and posed for pictures.
Other events over the course of the evening included the closure of Pleasant Street for a WSCA Radio all-night dance party, a magician and sword swallower, puppeteers, Celtic and Americana music, storytelling, and a chili cookoff.
Tuesday night’s venues were Saint John’s Fellowship Hall, North Church, Middle Street Baptist Church, Saint John’s Church, South Church and Temple Israel.
“A remarkable close to the decade,” Bourdages said. “All of our volunteers are absolutely incredible. This is local and organic to what Portsmouth really is.”
Massar said Pro Portsmouth’s First Night continues to be a tribute to all of the First Night events that came before them, and no longer continue. Asked what her favorite spectacle of the evening is, she said, “That would be like saying which one of my children is my favorite.”