As you read these words, it is New Year’s Eve 2017 when we meet to head, in spirit, for Times Square. Opting to cut through Central Park, we can pay honor to Robert (“Robby”) Burns at his statue in the Park’s Poets (Literary) Walk. The brave Celt’s poems capture, in the dialect of his native Scotland, the brave, fragile humanity of their subjects’ daily lives.
Burns is credited with capturing and writing down the sentiments of earlier generations. He told a long-time correspondent that he had adapted the poem called Auld Lang Syne (old long since/the olden days) from a traditional Scottish folk song. The words he recorded finally appeared in 1788, shortly after the poet’s death, in the fifth volume of George Thomson’s Scots Musical Museum.
As night falls on the last night of this challenging year, we feel especially indebted to him for having rescued the traditional song. As a favored anthem for welcoming a new year while continuing to treasure the friends and the moments of the past, it sets the scene. One of the beloved song’s traditions reminds us that it is still possible for people who may not even know one another, to form a circle, clasp crossed hands and sing with confidence, that they can “yet share a cup of kindness for auld lang syne.”
Tonight, it will be with a bow to the visionary Robby, that we proceed on our pilgrimage to what had come to be called “the Crossroads of the World” in the first year of the present Millennium.
In the interests of full disclosure, it is vital to say that my annual return to Times Square occurs only in memory. Given the times in which we live, I choose to make my “mental” walk to Times Square via Central Park and its Poet’s Walk precisely to bow in gratitude to Robert “Robbie” Burns, champion of vernacular poetry and of the power of the present to be burnished by capturing the best of the past. We are indebted to him for preserving the words of “Auld Lang Syne.” By recording those words of an iconic hymn, he continues to remind us all of the enduring value of old friendships.
And speaking of long friendships, I recall that one of the conditions of being allowed to join Waterford Wedgwood as storytellers and speech writers for the launch of its astounding “Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball” alliance with the City called “The Crossroads of the World,” was that my colleagues and I did not have to BE THERE when this glorious triumph of creativity made its maiden descent. That explains why my annual treks occur mentally and in memory and not in the seas of humanity that watch the ball’s descent in person.
As a lifetime friend charged with telling the stories of its people and its products, the strategy and marketing communications practice that shares my initials also owes its corporate name to another project for which we worked with Waterford Wedgwood USA. (More about that another time, but suffice to say we may be the only corporation whose name was inspired by an airport and the creation of a scepter.)
The adventure began for us at the culmination of a five-year period when Waterford’s Millennium Collection Toasting Flutes had captured the imaginations of some two million collectors by raising toasts to Health, Happiness, Love, Prosperity and Peace. On the eve of a transition no living human had ever experienced, it was time to join in the telling of a story of a daring icon of hope.
Some form of a “ball drop” to mark the start of a new year had been happening in New York’s Times Square area since 1907. That year, the event was marked by the drop the drop of New Year’s Ball of iron and wood, illuminated by 25-watt bulbs.
To celebrate a unique moment, 93 years later, Waterford Crystal was commissioned to join with Phillips Lighting totally to redesign the New Year’s Eve Ball. Thousands of handcrafted triangular panels were joined to form a geodesic sphere some 12-feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds that has become familiar to a global audience. For Times Square 2000, the Millennium celebration at the Crossroads of the World, the New Year’s Eve Ball’s redesign combined the latest in lighting technology with the most traditional of materials, reminding us of our past as we gazed into the future and the beginning of a new Millennium.
This year nearly three thousand panels are illuminated by some 33,000 Phillips’ light emitting diodes. They combine to show the addition of cut crystal symbols of such grace-full spiritual messages as Serenity, Kindness, Wonder, Fortitude and Imagination.
By 2007, the beauty and energy efficiency of the Centennial Ball inspired the building owners of One Times Square to build the permanent Big Ball weighing nearly six tons and twelve feet in diameter. The thousands of Waterford Crystal triangles are illuminated by tens of thousands of Philips Luxeon LEDs. This Big Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is now a year-round attraction sparkling above Times Square in full public view January through December. Atop One Times Square, it stands as a monument to the amazing marriage of the best of visionary technology with time-honored and enduring human artistry.
And so there come together in the moment we will celebrate later tonight, the best hopes expressed in song by “Auld Lang Syne” and in the human creativity of a crystal-clear call to a dare to enshrine the past by expressing an inspiration I like to think of as “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”
To that we will confidently raise “a cup of kindness yet!”