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Photos of New Year’s Eve 2019 are a real gut punch compared to pictures from today

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Does anyone remember last year?

There is plenty of evidence that 2019 did, in fact, exist, but I personally have almost no recollection of anything that happened before about March 2020, when the coronavirus came crashing in and redefined what it meant to have a bad year. 

Since then the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped almost everything, and that includes the way we celebrate the arrival of a new year. The ball drop in Times Square is as close to a national celebration as the U.S. has, and this year will be a completely different experience. 

This Waterford crystal ball will still come down at midnight. Ryan Seacrest will still host Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, and a few tipsy CNN anchors will still be doing their delightful thing. But the festivities in general will be totally closed to the public. That’s exactly as it should be for the sake of public health, but it’s a dramatic change from the usual jam-packed streets of Times Square.

Comparing this year’s socially distanced, masked affair with photos of last year’s crowded mass of partiers is both a gut punch and a bittersweet reminder of more normal times. 

Crowds used to be a good thing

Remember when people would arrive hours — or even days — ahead of time to cram themselves into position for a prime view of the ball making its famous descent? It’s almost haunting to see these people happily celebrating the arrival of 2020, having no idea what awaited them all.

Ringing in 2020 with loads of confetti and Times Square revelers.

Image: Corbis via Getty Images

People waiting for the party to get started on Dec. 31, 2019

People waiting for the party to get started on Dec. 31, 2019

It was a more innocent time for everyone.

It was a more innocent time for everyone.

Image: Corbis via Getty Images

As we ring in 2021, New York City has directed people not to come to the area, so gone are the usual throngs of tourists. Instead Times Square is just a whole lot of… empty space.

Barricades are set up to maintain social distance on Dec. 31, 2020.

Barricades are set up to maintain social distance on Dec. 31, 2020.

Image: AFP via Getty Images

No one is showing up early this year. We're all going to be watching 2021 arrive from a choice spot on our couch.

No one is showing up early this year. We’re all going to be watching 2021 arrive from a choice spot on our couch.

Image: AFP via Getty Images

Novelty glasses used to be the only required accessory

A woman happily awaiting 2020 on Dec. 31, 2019.

A woman happily awaiting 2020 on Dec. 31, 2019.

People haven’t given up on the tradition of New Year’s Eve frames, but for 2021 they have to pair them with masks. 

Do novelty glasses fog up too?

Do novelty glasses fog up too?

A person wearing a mask and a 'Happy New Year' hat visits Times Square on Dec. 30, 2020.

A person wearing a mask and a ‘Happy New Year’ hat visits Times Square on Dec. 30, 2020.

A new tradition has also emerged: wearing a Happy New Year novelty mask.

A man wears a double facemask before the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square on Dec. 31, 2020.

A man wears a double facemask before the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square on Dec. 31, 2020.

Image: AFP via Getty Images

Even the crystal ball preparation has been affected

It used to be a very up close and personal job to get the ball ready for its famous drop. 

Workers install new triangles in the Waterford Crystal ball for the 2020 celebration.

Workers install new triangles in the Waterford Crystal ball for the 2020 celebration.

Now it’s more of a masked and distanced process, but the iconic ball will still be ready for its shining moment at midnight.

Masked workers prepare some of the themed triangles being added to the ball  for 2021.

Masked workers prepare some of the themed triangles being added to the ball  for 2021.

Is the midnight kiss a thing of the past?

There’s almost nothing more central to the turn of a new year than the kiss at the stroke of midnight. Obviously at the start of 2020, people smooched with abandon.

A couple kisses at midnight on New Year's Eve 2020 in Times Square.

A couple kisses at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2020 in Times Square.

There won’t be many people in Times Square to carry on the tradition for 2021, but if those who are there for the big show do partake, let’s hope they do so in masks. Or perhaps a midnight fist bump is a safer choice.

In any case, most of America will (or at least should) be ringing in 2021 from home, where they can safely watch some fireworks to get in the spirit of things and then livestream the ball drop from Times Square while settled in on the couch. 

Here’s hoping that when it comes time to ring in 2022, we’re once again able to gather safely with friends and wear our silly hats and glasses without fear of them messing with our masks.

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