Fireworks detonate as the anchor is raised during one of Port Townsend’s First Night celebrations in this file photo.(Peninsula Daily News)

First Night returns to downtown Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — Hundreds of samples of soup, four kinds of live music and a whole lot of light: This is First Night, returning this New Year’s Eve to downtown Port Townsend.

The nonprofit Production Alliance is orchestrating the festival, to take place from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on a downtown block that will be pedestrian-only just for this party on Friday.

On Water Street — between Madison and Monroe streets — plus outdoors at Pope Marine Park and indoors at the Cotton Building and the Jefferson Museum of Art & History, the space will be “light, lively and welcoming,” the Alliance’s Megan Claflin said. The 30- by 40-foot tent that has been at Tyler Street Plaza for the past five weeks will be brought down to Water and Madison streets, as will a small herd of heaters to keep people relatively warm.

People of all ages are invited to partake in activities ranging from a scavenger hunt to a lantern parade, Claflin added.

Walter McQuillen, a member of the Makah nation who lives in Port Townsend, will display his tribal canoe.

Cindy Daily and volunteers from Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue will bring their live raptors to meet people inside the Cotton Building.

Jugglers are booked to appear at Pope Marine Park, while their performance, like other outdoor First Night festivities, is weather-permitting.

“These guys are good, but nobody can really juggle in 30 mph winds,” Claflin quipped.

The Unexpected Brass Band will lead the lantern parade around the plaza at 6:15 p.m., after the lantern decorating from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Then come the fire dancers at 7:45 p.m. and the traditional fireworks and raising of the big lighted anchor at 9 p.m.

These launches are done from Memorial Field, but the public won’t be permitted to go inside to watch, Claflin noted. People will be able to see the short fireworks display — put on as ever by Dr. David Chuljian — from nearby vantage points downtown as well as from the fire tower at Jefferson and Tyler streets Uptown.

For Thaddeus Jurczynski, who brings the anchor to Memorial Field, the highlight of New Year’s Eve is when he hears someone gasp and say, “Look, it’s our anchor!”

He also revels in the First Night feeling: “Art creating community and community creating art,” as he puts it.

Jurczynski has a mix of emotions this year: “pride, inclusion, and gratitude for being asked to create the anchor and being able to take part in this ceremony,” he said.

Port Townsend’s First Night debuted 14 winters ago as a party hosted by the Jefferson County Historical Society. It was an annual event until 2021, when it was canceled amid the pandemic, said historical society program director Tara McCauley.

This year’s return is an outpouring of music, art and activities, she said.

“I’m particularly excited about the Soba giveaway,” McCauley said of the noodle soup samples — many hundreds of them — that will be served as part of a Japanese New Year’s Eve tradition.

Friday will be the last chance to visit the Jefferson Museum of Art & History. It will stay open till 7 p.m. and then close for two months, she added.

The museum’s exhibits include “Witnessing Climate Change,” a mix of art and artifacts collected by expeditionary artist Maria Coryell-Martin of Port Townsend.

The museum will be undergoing some updating, including the remodeling of its elderly front doors, McCauley said.

Claflin, for her part, said First Night is meant to be a celebration of light, music and motion — a forward momentum into the new year. The festival is set up to keep people roaming from activity to activity, indoors and out.

She knows this New Year’s Eve will be cold, and said she can only hope for a night free of too much rain and wind.

“We encourage people to bundle up,” Claflin said.


Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or

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