Times Square has been home to the country’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebration for over a century. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 saw a comparably empty Times Square as everyone celebrated in quarantine.
This year, the city is bringing back the festivities in full swing. But before you reach for your noisemakers and champagne, be aware: there’s a catch this time.
How The Times Square Tradition Started
The NYE ball made its first descent from atop One Times Square in 1907. 100 25-watt light bulbs adorned the original iron and wood bulb. An immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr built the ball; signmaker Artkraft Strauss lowered it.
These days, it’s a much more involved operation. Tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of onlookers gather in the city to watch the main event. Meanwhile, millions more watch remotely across the globe.
The city canceled its tradition only three times throughout its history. Once in 1942 and again in 1943 during World War II. The last, most recent cancellation was in December 2020.
NYC’s Long History With Epidemics
When the time came to make the call on New Year’s 2021, New York City was still reeling from the pandemic. The east coast city was one of the country’s first epicenters of the disease.
In early 2020, NYC was a coronavirus hotspot. The CDC reported over 200,000 cases of COVID-19 within the first three months of the pandemic. In early April, when most of us were only beginning to see COVID in our areas, NYC reported over 800 COVID deaths in one day.
The rest of the country looked on in horror as hospital workers set up makeshift morgues in refrigerated trucks. While this might seem like a pandemic nightmare of the past, it’s still going on in 2021.
2020 wasn’t the first time the Big Apple reckoned with an epidemic, either. Almost exactly a century earlier, the city nearly crumbled under the weight of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.
Thus, in light of the city’s long history, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement seems all the more logical.
Ringing In The New Year Responsibly
De Blasio announced on November 16th that Times Square will be open for New Year’s 2022 celebrations. “We are proud to announce the Times Square wonderful celebration, the ball drop, everything, coming back full strength, the way we love it.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate,” the mayor continues, “we can finally get back together again. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be a joy for the city.”
The catch? All NYE attendees must be fully vaccinated. Partygoers will have to show proof of vaccination and a valid photo ID. The city already highly recommends everyone wear a mask in public, indoor settings regardless of whether it’s explicitly required.
This policy piggybacks off of the Key to NYC campaign, which started on August 17th, 2021. Many bars, gyms, theaters, and restaurants already require proof of vaccination.
However, this new policy might seem like the ultimate buzzkill for the thousands of tourists visiting NYC to party. But in typical NYC spirit, the locals aren’t too worried about what out-of-towners think.