First Night Boston: A Family-Friendly New Year's Eve Celebration

first night boston with kids 2016

Boston rings in 2016 with its annual First Night celebration, the country’s oldest and largest New Year’s Eve arts festival. The celebration features music, dance, ice skating, and theater performances. There's a family festival in the Copley Square area and a procession to Boston Common, where family fireworks light up the sky at 7pm. Best of all, the festival is completely free for the first time this year, with no buttons required.

First Night Highlights

Family Festival: The Copley Square area is packed with kid-centric events from 1pm to 6pm: including performances by Puppet Showplace Theater, the Chu Ling Dance Academy, the O'Shea Dance Academy, and more. Families can also find arts and crafts, magic shows, face painting, and photo opps with favorite characters.

Winter on the Waterfront: New Year's Eve on the Waterfront unites a dozen indoor Family Fun Sites along an ice sculpture trail from East Boston to the Seaport. Visit each site for free food, music, crafts, and other activities. Envoy Hotel is hosting a Touch-a-Truck and Boat event to celebrate Boston's first responders. Family Fun Sites are open from 1pm to 4pm.

The People's Procession: The procession starts at Copley Square at 6pm and moves down Boylston Street toward Boston Common. Including artists from Grooversity, the Chinese Cultural Center, and the Puppeteers Cooperative, the public can march alongside giant puppets, a dragon, and marching bands. 

Skating Spectacular: The Skating Club of Boston celebrates the New Year at The Boston Common Frog Pond with the annual Skating Spectacular at 6pm.

Family Fireworks: Don't be late! The 10-minute fireworks display takes place in the intimate setting of the Boston Common Ballfield (at the corner of Boylston and Charles) at 7pm. 

Ice Sculptures on the Waterfront, Boston Common and Copley Square are illuminated at dark with a bright display of colors. 

Midnight Fireworks: The skies above Boston Harbor are transformed with color, light, and sound when the clocks strike twelve and ring in the new year. 

First Day

The festivities continue on New Year's Day with more free performances in the Copley Square area and plenty of local businesses serving special brunches.

6 Helpful Tips

  1. Plan ahead: The First Night website lists the full schedule of events, where you can sort by venue, and the Winter on the Waterfront website lists further details about waterfront activities. There are so many options available that it’s very helpful to go with a few choices already in mind.
  2. Get an early start: Some of the indoor performances are first-come, first served and can fill up quickly.
  3. Be prepared for crowds: This is not a typical day/evening in Boston. There are people everywhere, so it's important to reinforce whatever plans your family has in order to stick together (buddy system, what to do if you're separated, etc.)
  4. Use public transportation: Enough said.
  5. Dress for the weather! Cold, wet feet and hands will make everyone miserable. Conversely, too many layers will be a major distraction if it's a warm evening.
  6. Restrooms: Portable “blue rooms” are located on the Common and Copley Square.

Photo: New Year's Eve on the Waterfront, courtesy of the Boston Harbor Association

Originally published Dec 2011; updated Dec 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015