A First Night guide to ringing in the New Year
Boy, if ever a year came with baggage, it’s 2012. The end-year of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is rife with doomsday predictions — and, though Mayans and modern scientists alike have largely dispelled those as myths, it’s still pretty heavy stuff to weigh on your mind this New Year’s Eve. We’d rather subscribe to British rapper Jay Sean’s more festive forecast in “2012 (It Ain’t the End)”: “We gonna party like, like it’s 2012 ... It ain’t the end of the world.” Whatever the coming year brings, three First Night celebrations around the state make sure we ring it in right.
Buy a button — it’s your ticket to music, theater, dancing and fireworks. Burlington and Montpelier’s festivities rev up at noon; St. Johnsbury joins the club at 4 p.m.
As always, the Queen City pulls out all stops in its impressive 12-hour celebration. Comic offerings are on the incline this year, with two helpings of funny at the Flynn — and you’ll want to hit up at least a few of the 15-plus venues for gigs by Circus Smirkus, the Starline Rhythm Boys, the House of LeMay and many more. The big draw, of course, is the fireworks, and you can get a double dose at 6 p.m. and midnight.
The Capital City forgoes fireworks for the second year in favor of a lantern launch. At 9:30 p.m., magical, biodegradable Kongming lanterns light up the night, capping a day of face painting, ice skating, puppetry ... you name it. Everything’s over and done with by 10:30 p.m. for those who want to hit up another party — or maybe just hit the hay.
Over in the Northeast Kingdom, St. Johnsbury offers the best of both worlds. Dancing Djinn performers play with fire before helping revelers send sky lanterns into the night at 8:15 p.m. Traditional midnight pyrotechnics wrap up a Messiah sing-along, belly dancing and the always-popular planetarium shows.
So much to do, and only one night to do it! Read on for some of the highlights. Neighboring towns also offer their own take on New Year’s Eve; see the sidebar for a roundup of dance parties and parades.
It’s been a good run, 2011. Now, cheers to the new year!
Saturday, December 31, noon to midnight, at various downtown locations. $5-27 button; free for kids under 3; some shows require additional $4 tickets. Info, 863-6005. firstnightburlington.com 
Swing by Church Street at just the right time this New Year’s Eve and it may resemble a scene straight out of Chinese New Year. Floating above the crowds are massive, serpentine dragons that are more auspicious than ferocious. The mythical creatures, symbols of luck in Chinese folklore, are said to give bad spirits the boot. Crafted in part by children from area schools and hoisted along on poles, each monstrous, glittering being undulates its way down the marketplace in a colorful celebration of community and new beginnings. Dancing Dragons Parade: 5 to 5:30 p.m. at Church Street Marketplace.
If you like this, try: Parade of Lights, Lantern Launch & Disco Party, 9 to 10:30 p.m. at City Hall Plaza, First Night Montpelier.
Fireworks boom between Aya Inoue’s two First Night performances, but the scene set by this Burlington songstress counteracts the deafening clatter. “Aya Inoue’s voice is the definition of tranquility,” writes State of Mind music magazine, and yet her style — a blend of folk, Americana and country — is explosive in its own way. As one of the region’s top songwriters, she’s toured with Mike Gordon of Phish, collaborated with Lowell Thompson and Blues and Lasers, and currently fronts popular local folk-rock band the Amida Bourbon Project. Might some of those familiar faces be among the friends helping Inoue usher out 2011 onstage? Let’s find out. Aya Inoue & Friends: 5 to 5:45 p.m. at FlynnSpace; 7 to 7:40 p.m. at College Street Congregational Church.
If you like this, try: Anaïs Mitchell, 5 to 5:40 p.m. at First Congregational Church Sanctuary, First Night Burlington; 9 and 11 p.m. at Fuller Hall, St. Johnsbury Academy, First Night St. Johnsbury.
Saturday, December 31, noon to 10:30 p.m., at various downtown locations. $10-18 button. Info, 371-9242 or 223-9604. montpelieralive.org/firstnight 
Down the Road
From the presidential election to alleged planetary shifting, 2012 is shaping up to be quite a ride. One band takes listeners there and back again with songs that evoke the open road. As Hotels & Highways, Erin “Syd” Sidney, Patrick Thomas and Vermont native Lisa Piccirillo weave aspects of blues and jazz into whimsical folk songs about going with the flow: “Spin the globe/ Wherever it stops, I’m going,” begins “Train Whistle.” That song was one of 10 written and recorded at a short lakeside retreat, a compilation of “cabin-grown” tracks that turned into the band’s debut album, Lost River. Guess you never know what the future will bring. Hotels & Highways 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Church.
If you like this, try: Joshua Panda Band, 8 to 8:40 p.m. at Burlington City Hall Auditorium, First Night Burlington.
Saturday, December 31, 4 p.m. to midnight at various downtown locations. $12-17 button; free for preschoolers. Info, 748-2600. firstnightstj.com 
Up, Up and Away
New Year’s Eve is all about looking up, from making optimistic resolutions for the coming months to simply craning your neck to see the fireworks. The puppeteers of Brattleboro’s National Marionette Theatre, however, have their heads firmly facing downward — to see the stage below, that is. The operators of this two-time UNIMA-citation-winning troupe, founded in 1967, play the roles of puppet master, carver, sculptor, painter and costumer in order to produce stunning rod-and-string fairy-tale adaptations. In their first visit to St. J, they’ll go above and beyond by featuring select marionettes in vignettes of their most popular performances. National Marionette Theatre: 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Charles Hosmer Morse Center for the Arts, St. Johnsbury Academy.
If you like this, try: No Strings Marionette Company, 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Union School Gym, First Night Montpelier.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks & Torchlight Parade, 8:30 p.m. at Bolton Valley Resort. Free. Info, 877-926-5866. boltonvalley.com 
New Year’s Eve Knights of Columbus Party, 6:30 p.m. at Knights of Columbus in St. Albans. $45; preregister. Info, 309-1492.
New Year’s Eve Latin Dance, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at North End Studio A in Burlington. $6-15. Info, 324-3161 or 324-7754. amigoentertainment.com 
New Year’s Eve Mambo, 9 p.m. at Big Picture Theater & Café in Waitsfield. $5-10. Info, 496-8994. bigpicturetheater.info 
New Year’s Eve Party & Fireworks, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the International Room, Jay Peak Resort. Various prices. Info, 988-2611. jaypeakresort.com 
New Year’s Eve With the Horse Traders, 8 p.m. at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. $15. Info, 382-9222. townhalltheater.org 
Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, 7 p.m. at Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center in South Burlington. $52.25; for ages 21 and up. Info, 863-5966. flynntix.org 
A Wicked Smart New Year’s, 6:30 p.m. at Tamarack Grill, Burke Mountain Ski Resort. $60; make reservations; for ages 21 and up. Torchlight Parade, 8:30 p.m. at Sherburne Base Lodge. Free. Info, 626-7300. skiburke.com