Peter and I recently sped up I-64 for a quick escape to this mountain town. It was New Year’s Eve to be specific, and I had read about C’ville’s First Night celebration, the second oldest First Night franchise in the nation (Boston is the first). It sounded like a cozy way to spend New Year’s Eve—in a small town with a walkable downtown.
In case you didn’t know, First Night is a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration held in 69 cities across the U.S. Virginia has six First Night celebrations in Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Winchester. Sadly, there’s not one First Night Celebration in Hampton Roads.
These celebrations can take various forms, but all share a no-alcohol policy. Most involve music, the performing arts, and hands-on activities for the kids. In C’ville, you buy a wristband, which gives you access to dozens of musical performances—everything from blues to chamber music in venues ranging from churches to hotels. Noisemakers and glowing accessories add to the fun, and there’s also the prerequisite ball drop at midnight as a disco band plays a primordial beat.
If you’ve never been to Charlottesville, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its small-town feel. The Downtown Mall—pedestrian only— is lined with trees, terraces, boutiques, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. In spite of the winter chill, the Mall was thrumming with activity on First Night, its restaurants overflowing, smiling people strolling along in their winter coats, enjoying the fresh air and the opportunity to commune with their neighbors on this auspicious occasion.
I’ve never lived in a small town. In fact, most of my life I’ve been here in Virginia Beach. Granted when I first moved here at the ripe old age of 10, the city only had 40,000 residents. Now 40+ years later it’s packed to the gills and still growing, with 11 times as many people—that’s 440,000 for the mathematically challenged. By comparison, Charlottesville’s population is around 45,000. Despite its small stature, it has a thriving restaurant scene, a cool city vibe, and a progressive momentum. Whole Foods Market has been there for 20 years!
I wonder what we can do here in Hampton Roads to create more of a sense of community. Maybe we can start by planning our own First Night Celebration. If you’re interested, let me know!
IF YOU GO
• Check out visit firstnightva.org.
• For travel information, go to visitcharlottesville.org
• Accommodations are plentiful and affordable. Peter and I stayed at the Holiday Inn near I-64 at the Fifth St. exit (bighi5.com). For dinner we enjoyed prix-fixe menu at The Commonwealth Restaurant, one of our favorites (commonwealthskybar.com).