Blue and gold fireworks rose in the sky above the Sydney Opera House, as they do every year, but the harbor below was a ghost town, a correspondingly terrifying expedition for a year not to be missed. No light show will light up Beijing from the top of the TV tower. Lions in London’s Trafalfar Square will be barricaded, as will Moscow’s Red Square. In Rome, the crowds will not gather in St. Peter’s Square, and the partygoers will not make their annual dives in the Tiber.
The New Year’s Eve ball will fall on Broadway. But instead of thousands of New Yorkers packed shoulder-to-shoulder in Times Square, the audience will be a small pre-selected group of nurses, doctors and other key workers, their families keeping a six-foot distance in socially spaced pens. Hello, 2020. Hello, 2021. With over 1.7 million people dead and 82 million infected worldwide since last New Year’s Eve – however, we hope the new vaccines can help tame the pandemic – this year’s end is like no other another in memory.
Angela Merkel, in her 16th New Year’s speech as German chancellor, said the same. “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say: I’ve never found the old year so hard in the last 15 years. And never, despite all the worries and a certain skepticism, have I waited for the new one with so much hope.” Germany has banned selling fireworks to discourage crowds. Authorities in Berlin said police would “consistently punish rapists.”
In Australia, where the Sydney Opera House fireworks are being televised around the world as the first major visual display of the new year, movement has been restricted, gatherings banned and internal borders closed. Most people were barred from coming to Sydney city center on Thursday night. “What the hell was a year,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the prime minister of New South Wales, which includes Sydney. “We hope that 2021 will be easier for all of us.”
In the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, usually full, there will be no delicacies to fill your grapes in your mouth – one for every midnight shot, according to tradition. In the UK, where a highly contagious virus is rampant, official billboards are instructing the public to “see the New Year safely at home”. Barriers have been erected in public places such as Trafalgar Square and London Square. In France, where there will also be a night extinguisher, no more than six adults are allowed to gather around the table. But there will be holidays – small but stylish. “I will fill myself with foie gras and champagne,” said a Parisian. “And I’ll stay home.”