As New Year’s Eve 2023 approached, it seemed like something vital was missing from the calendar... until just a day or two before Dec. 31, when I saw a poster for the New Year’s Eve Cowboy Ball in Heinsburg.
At last, I thought, those who want to dance their way into 2024 have someplace to go. A couple of decades ago, there would have been decisions to be made regarding which dance to go to.
Those dances were a longstanding tradition. When I was a youngster, my older siblings always got dressed in their best on New Year’s Eve and headed to one of the local halls to celebrate, returning long after our parents and I had listened to Auld Lang Syne and the countdown to midnight on the battery radio before yawning our way to bed.
The siblings had spouses to take dancing by the time I was finally old enough to go to dances, and the one I remember best from my teen years was that like this year, New Year’s Eve was a Sunday, and the Lord’s Day Act, dating back to 1906, prohibiting sport, entertainment and most business activity, would still be in effect for several years. So, the dance started at midnight, and by then being finished high school, having a job and on the verge of being engaged, I could ignore my dad’s grumbling about the evils of staying out that late, and went dancing!
The years that followed saw us alternating New Year’s dances with house parties, one of those when we hosted a small and simple wedding reception in our basement suite for my sister-in-law and her brand new groom, just married on a snow-free Dec. 31 that I learned the other day had the warmest temperature on record for that day of the year. I do know it was a beautiful day for a wedding, and having the reception in our apartment meant not having to find a babysitter, because we were parents by then.
Finding sitters for New Year’s Eve became as much an issue as deciding on what dance to go to, in days when there were many small halls in the rural areas around Calgary to choose from. Sitters were not only hard to find, but also pricey and we had just gotten to the point that our oldest could babysit her siblings when we moved north.
One year a sitter would have been much cheaper; we’d gone to Minnesota for Christmas, to visit my sister and widowed mother, who were living there. New Year’s Eve was fine, but the next morning wasn’t - we got a call from my in-laws to say that the propane at our Calgary farm had run out, the pump was frozen and the cattle had no water. We left almost immediately and drove all night through nasty weather, getting home by noon the next day to start a massive cleanup –NOT a happy start to that New Year, for sure.
Having learned that it was safer to stay home in mid-winter, we had New Year’s dances at Armistice Hall and Elk Point Elks Hall to choose from, and then came the First Night festivals. The first, spearheaded by the late Sid Holthe to celebrate the change of the century on the final evening of 1999, was a family event that included
everything from wagon rides to a puppet show, a snowman building contest to skating in the arena, plus entertainment leading up to fireworks at 9 p.m. Just as the fireworks got underway, a storm blew in and I drove home in blowing snow.
Following several years of First Night celebrations, it was back to New Year’s dances, one of them at the Allied Arts, following right after that year’s Big Bucks contest. Another year, we enjoyed a Bull-a-rama in St. Paul, followed by a supper at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. Those were both fun, although a big change from earlier years, and more recently we’ve just spent New Year’s Eve at home.
We may no longer go dancing, but the arrival of another New Year definitely needs to be celebrated, and it’s good to see some communities continuing the old tradition.