The “Gift of Wisdom” was the message last night, as the ball dropped in Times Square, and we said goodbye to 2021.
Waterford Crystal, who have designed the famous ball since the turn of the millennium, has been carrying out a “Greatest Gifts” series since 2014. Each ball has represented a different gift, with last year’s celebrating the “Gift of Happiness”. Every year, the new design is added to the ball in 192 triangular panels, alongside the previous years. The series is set to conclude in 2023 with the “Gift of Love”.
Jeffrey Strauss, president of Countdown Entertainment explained the significance of this year’s message. Mr. Strauss spoke to CNN as the crystals were replaced on the ball. He said the Gift of Wisdom is “represented by a wheel with these petals of knowledge growing ever forward.”
Waterford Crystal was founded in 1783 by brothers William and George Penrose who had a vision to create the finest quality drinkware and home decoration. Over 200 years later, their legacy hosts over 16 million vibrant colors and a billion patterns to create the kaleidoscope of color that is the New Year’s Eve ball drop.
Master artisan at Waterford Crystal Tom Brennan learned the art of glass blowing during his childhood in the Crystal County. His father was a glass blower and taught him the tricks of the trade. Speaking to Yahoo News, Mr. Brennan explained the significance of the “Greatest Gifts” series.
“We call [the series] sharing a common thread of international generosity that is truly universally treasured. And you know, each and every year we have a new theme, a new cut pattern, and this year’s theme is the gift of wisdom.
“And wisdom for me is something that, you know, it’s always apt. It’s always ready. And it’s a new year, and I think this year, going into 2022, given the challenges that we really have all faced, I think it’s a great fresh year full of opportunity, potential, and wisdom for all of us.”
Waterford Crystal’s design of the ball has always stood as a metaphor for not only the world we live in but how we should conduct ourselves in the year to come. With the introduction of LED lights alongside the famous crystal, the idea was that we embraced our past whilst also looking ahead to our futures.
The ball, marooned on a tiny triangle in the middle of Manhattan, tells the long history of the city that surrounds it.
While the Irish element of the iconic countdown may be on the more recent side of history, the ball drop has taken place since 1907. New York City revelers began gathering in Times Square to celebrate the new year in 1904. Fireworks were used at the inaugural event, which marked the opening of the headquarters of The New York Times.
The paper itself praised the celebration at what was then the second tallest building in Manhattan. “From base to dome the giant structure was alight – a torch to usher in the newborn year…”
However, by 1907 fireworks had been banned by the city and the idea of a large illuminated wooden ball being lowered from a flagpole was born. Appearing atop Times Tower, the ball began its descent at 11.59pm on December 31st as the countdown ensued. Tens of thousands of people gather every year, pre-pandemic, while millions tune in worldwide to ring in the new year.
The ball drop has taken place every year since 1907, with the exception of 1942 and 1943 when the wartime “dimout” of lights in New York City was in effect. People still gathered at the foot of what is now known as One Times Square and marked the new year with a moment of silence, followed by the chiming of bells. Last year the event was held with no audience due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the in-person ball drop returns this year, the capacity has been reduced from 58,000 to 15,000 and vaccination proof is required.
Despite these hiccups, and the eventual relocation of The New York Times from the very square named in its honor, the ball drop has become the most famous symbol of the new year. It replaced Trinity Church as the place to ring in the new year in Manhattan and has undergone various changes to its appearance over the years.
In 1920, the original wooden ball was replaced with a wrought iron version, weighing 400lbs. In 1955, the weight of the ball was reduced to a
mere 150lbs as the iron was swapped out for aluminum. This ball remained unchanged until the 1980s when the “I Love New York” marketing campaign saw the ball fitted out with red light bulbs and a green stem to appear as a miniature “big apple”.
By the 90s the stem was removed, and the traditional white bulbs returned and in 1995, the ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls. This aluminum version was lowered for the last time in 1998.
Waterford Crystal took over the contract at a pivotal time in New York history. Just one year after the Irish company took the reins, the events of 9/11 shook the city, and the world, and the significance of community and looking ahead to brighter times was more poignant than ever. The crystals removed each year appear in various museums in the years to follow. A portion of the 2001 ball holds permanent residence in the 9/11 Tribute Museum.
The ball drop remains a constant in the heart of New York City. The ball even became a permanent year-round fixture in Times Square. It symbolizes new beginnings and hope to those who gaze up at it from the hustle and bustle of the city below. This year, however, it also signifies the “gift of wisdom” and after the challenges of recent times such a gift is well received by the people of New York City.♦