Belfast Telegraph

Let’s make a New Year resolution ... to celebrate 2011

By Gail Walker

It's not often that I congratulate Belfast City Council. Even rarer when I have to congratulate them for doing — to quote the old song — absolutely nothin'.

But well done for nixing the New Year's Eve celebrations and saving the ratepayer somewhere — depending upon who you listen to — between £200,000 and half-a-million.

Because the people of Belfast have already spoken about New Year and their voice is clear: we really can't be fussed.

The civic welcome for 2009 was pathetically low, with less than 5,000 souls turning out to see the clock strike midnight. So no wonder the council's reaction when it came to counting down the chimes to 2010 has been ‘Fool me once ...’

Quite why we're not up with London, Edinburgh and even Cardiff, where thousands turn out on to for their city’s New Year’s Eve bash, is a matter of some debate.

It could be that after 40 years of violence going out at night communally just isn't in our DNA. Maybe, it never was.

Quick quiz: off the top of your head, where does Belfast celebrate New Year? In front of the City Hall? At the Albert Clock? You're not too sure, are you?

And if we can't even agree where to meet then what's the point? At heart a provincial city, we simply don't have a strong civic tradition of New Year celebrations.

It could also be that people have simply had enough of New Year: the drudgery of getting anywhere (“Double fares, mate? Can't pick you up until six in the morning”), the expense, the low level threat of drunken thuggery — and all to celebrate the rather abstract concept of Time. Throw in money being tight, and the freezing weather, and no wonder most of us go: “Naw, I think I'll stick with Jools Holland's Hootenanny on the telly.”

And yet ... isn’t there also something deeply shaming about Belfast not being on the box this year when they do that little electronic roll call of metropolitan cities and nations as 2010 began? In Edinburgh 80,000 people joined in the celebrations. In Belfast, not so much as a single firework.

Somehow, the lack of New Year celebrations made us look mean, curmudgeonly and hopelessly dour.

Goodness knows, the (non)pictures of our empty streets at midnight probably confirmed the worst stereotypes of Belfast and Northern Ireland round the world. Like it or not, we are supposed to have some pretensions to being a capital city.

So, if the old idea of sticking up a big screen and a music concert doesn't work and if shutting our doors and hitting the drinks cabinet is unacceptable, then what to do? To which the answer is, er, something else, obviously.

What would be wrong with a free concert-cum-gala down the Waterfront Hall for those individuals and voluntary organisations who contribute to life of our city? It could be an event different in tone to the usual aimless bacchanalia of most New Year celebrations.

Or, if we must detox the whole thing, what would be wrong with just a simple civic ceremony in front of the Albert Clock? If you want to come along, fine, but forget the idea of being ‘entertained’. Who knows? If we keep the idea simple — and as a bonus ‘meaningful’ — it may grow into a tradition that would serve this city well.

Or perhaps we should go all out for a big night out, complete with live music and hot dog stands? Put the concept out to tender to a promoter, pay for a ticket and be entertained.

Just three ideas. But the point is Belfast — and that doesn't just mean the city council — needs to get its thinking cap on and come up with some original ideas.

The seeings in of 2009 and 2010 were in their contrasting ways disasters. We can't have three disasters in a row. 2011 needs a different approach. The only good news is that we have 360 days to do better.

Belfast Telegraph

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