By Tom Bell
For generations, staying up until midnight on New Year's Eve was a rite of passage for many children. Some never made it. They fell asleep waiting for the big moment to arrive.
Now, the big moment comes to them.
Several communities in Greater Portland are now holding celebrations earlier in the evening, rather than waiting until midnight, so children can participate without getting cranky.
In Yarmouth, the First Universalist Church will replicate the traditional trappings of New Year's Eve during the town's first Clam Drop, even down to the dropping of the ball, although with a twist: Steamer, Yarmouth's Clam Festival mascot, will be lowered from the belfry of the church at 97 Main St. at the stroke of midnight.
To accommodate the kids, there will be an earlier lowering at 7 p.m. for families with children.
"The idea was, let's have the Clam Drop at midnight, like Times Square," said event organizer Charlie Horstmann. "But someone said, 'Charlie, nobody is going to be up at midnight, and the kids won't be up."'
So the 7 p.m. Clam Drop was born.
For the earlier drop, however, there is no need for parents to lie to their children and try to convince them it's really midnight. Rather, according to Horstmann, parents should instruct their children that it really is midnight -- in Greenwich Mean Time, the global time standard. In Maine, 7 p.m. is the moment midnight is measured from the Greenwich Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.
There will also be music, hot cocoa, cookies. At the 7 p.m. event, Ann Nye, widow of Ken Nye, a poet and beloved church leader who died this year, will read a poem in remembrance.
Other venues are also hosting New Year's Eve celebrations far ahead of midnight, some even during daylight.
• Portland's Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine, for instance, is throwing a New Year's Eve party between 11 a.m. and noon, featuring a countdown and balloon drop. Children are encouraged to dress in their pajamas.
• In Freeport, outdoors retailer L.L. Bean will ring in the new year with a festive "KidNight," starting at 5:15 p.m. with live music from Rick Charette and concluding with a 6 p.m. fireworks display.
• In Gorham, there will be numerous events around town, including horse-drawn wagon rides, drum circles, comedy shows, face painting and puppet shows, concluding with fireworks at 10 p.m. at Gorham High School.
• In Old Orchard Beach, festivities on the beach begin at 4:30 p.m. with marshmallow toasting pits, hot cocoa and a beach bonfire. Fireworks are scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
And once the sugar crash kicks in, parents can feel free to send the kids to bed, well before the stroke of 12.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at