Must we always wake up on January 1 with the most killer hangover? Barbaric! What sort of way is that to kick off our list of New Year's resolutions? Who's gonna jump out from under the covers and go jogging on the first day of 2004 when it already feels like a stampede is trampling its way across our foreheads?
In other words, maybe, just maybe, it's time to come up with new New Year's traditions -- such as enjoying art, watching stiltwalkers, dancing the salsa -- and rethink this whole slosh-in-the-new-year ritual. Or hey, at the very least, let's come up with a better reason to imbibe than just because. For example, let's say it's freezing outside, but you're out in the cold trying to better yourself with a little culture. So you swig a few nips of brandy here and there out of that flask in your parka pocket as you make your way round Forest Park, where both First Night St. Louis (an annual multimedia celebration) and Celebrate 2004 (one time only, folks!) are taking place. Either way, 2003 still has a few hours to go, and you're feeling better already.
First Night relocates this year from Grand Center to the Saint Louis Zoo. Beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31, six hours of kid-friendly merriment will be offered throughout the zoo's Lakeside Café, numerous theater spaces and other facilities indoor and out: group art projects, storytelling, short films, face-painting, modern dance, fire jugglers, improv comedy and truly much, much more. The whole gang of performers and partygoers form a procession that makes its way toward the park's fireworks come 11:30 p.m. Another change to First Night in 2004, besides the venue: While years past required the purchase of an admission button, this year is all-free, come-and-go-as-you-please.
Celebrate 2004 (also completely free, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.) officially kicks off a year of hoopla commemorating the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the centennial of the St. Louis World's Fair (which we know you know already). Spread out all over Forest Park, the fun is geared toward little and big kids. Granola-groove band the Samples and mixmaster DJ Kut will both be performing on a stage erected at Government Hill, while naughty flamenco dancers spin inside the Missouri History Museum. The celebrated Luma troupe performs its glowing Theatre of Light near the World's Fair Pavilion at 8 p.m.
The party's pièce de résistance? The Ferris wheel! Commemorating the one that famously debuted at the 1904 World's Fair, a 115-foot replica replete with thousands of incandescent lights will be free for the riding right next to Government Hill. It'll be visible from Highway 40 and offer panoramic views of all of Forest Park. And should the line be too long on New Year's Eve, later in the year the wheel will reappear near the park's McKinley Walk Drive for the summertime celebrations of 2004.
Free shuttles will circulate around Forest Park during the two celebrations; other vehicular traffic won't be allowed. For information on nearby parking and more, visit First Night St. Louis at www.firstnightstl.org or call 314-289-8121; for Celebrate 2004 visit www.celebrate2004.org (which includes news on upcoming events through the calendar year) or call 866-STL-2004.