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It’s Tradition

by Valerie Nusbaum

It was New Year’s Eve 1993. Randy and I were in the early days of our relationship, and we decided to impress each other and celebrate in a big way. We went to the Holiday Inn in Frederick, where our deluxe package included not only the room, but also dinner, a dance and party, and breakfast the next morning. There was a telephone in our bathroom, which fascinated me for some reason and I remember calling a lot of people. I’ve said it before. It doesn’t take much to impress me.

I was dressed in an emerald green satin brocade cocktail dress with matching jacket, and wearing all manner of bling. It was the ‘90s. Don’t judge me. Randy was dashing in his navy pinstripe suit with a red tie, and we dined on surf and turf. At the party, an inebriated man sprayed Silly String in my hair. Contrary to the writing on the can, that stuff does not easily comb out. I think we stayed until just after midnight to ring in the New Year, and then we went to sleep. We’ve never been party animals.

Flash forward a few years to New Year’s Eve 1996. As often happens during the holidays, I had been fighting a flu bug. I put on my pajamas and got into bed with my blankie to watch the ball drop on television, but I couldn’t stay awake. I awoke sometime later to find myself wearing a party hat, with a noisemaker stuck in my mouth. I was covered in confetti and littered with empty bottles and glasses. The next morning, Randy showed me the photos that he’d taken to commemorate the occasion. He was proud of himself. I guess he got bored all alone on New Year’s Eve.

Three years later, in 1999, I remember us sitting on the edge of the couch at midnight, waiting for the lights to go out and things to explode. All the hype about Y2K had everyone in a tizzy, but when nothing had happened by 12:30 a.m., we went to bed.

New Year’s Eve seems to be a time for traditions, as we celebrate the birth of a new year and reflect upon the events of the previous twelve months. There are parties and champagne, music and dancing, and fireworks. And since 1907, the people of New York City have dropped a large ball at the stroke of midnight. We sing “Auld Lang Syne,” and we kiss the one we’re with—and sometimes we kiss other people, too. Ask Randy about that when you see him.

December 31 is the last day of the Gregorian calendar and that’s the date on which we celebrate New Year’s Eve pretty much all over the world. Julius Caesar is credited with declaring January 1 as the start of the new calendar year, but earlier celebrations date back as far as 4,000 years ago, when a religious festival called Atiku went on for eleven days and praised the barley harvest, thought to have been in what we now call March.

Traditions have grown out of the celebrations. People in Spain eat a dozen grapes just before midnight, with each grape representing hope for the coming months. Legumes are consumed because they resemble coins and are thought to enhance financial success; for example, Italians eat lentils and American Southerners eat black-eyed peas. In Sweden and Norway, people eat a rice pudding containing an almond, and whoever finds the almond is promised twelve months of good fortune—right after paying for having his or her broken tooth repaired.

Pigs are believed to represent prosperity, so pork is served on December 31 in Cuba and Argentina. I know that a lot of my friends and family swear that eating cabbage on January 1 will bring money in the New Year. I do that one, too. It can’t hurt, and I like cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Randy won’t eat either of those things, but then, his favorite vegetable is macaroni and cheese and he puts gravy on it.

The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is believed to date back to the ancient Babylonians, where they promised (or resolved) to pay debts and return borrowed items in order to gain the favor of the Gods. Randy and I don’t really make resolutions any more. We do set goals, and we track them throughout the year. I met all of mine for 2015, but I gave myself easy things to do. Most people resolve to do the hard stuff like losing weight, exercising more, and being better people. Whatever.

There have been a lot of other New Year’s Eves for us. A couple of them were spent with family and friends, and a few were celebrated with dinner at The Shamrock or Cozy Restaurant. I cooked Cornish game hens one year, and another year we got takeout seafood for dinner. It occurs to me that our only New Year’s Eve tradition seems to be spending it together and getting some sleep, and that’s just fine by me. Happy New Year!

Deb Spalding

FF Memorial ladder trucks with flag by Bill Green for the NFFFIn preparation of the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service that is held in October in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the National Fire Academy, Emmitsburg’s fire personnel and volunteers fill multiple rolls year-round. For this year’s 33rd annual event held on the weekend of October 11 and 12, 2014, the folks at Vigilant Hose Company washed a huge U.S. flag then hung it to dry in the four-story stairwell at the station on West Main Street in Emmitsburg. Witnessing the flag, Wayne Powell, Executive Director of the National Fire Heritage Center (located within the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg) said, “It was something to see.”

This same flag was later suspended between two ladder trucks, Emmitsburg’s and Walkersville’s, to create the gateway through which guests entered the memorial. This is just one example of support services conducted by the folks at the Vigilant Hose Company and the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum to help the U.S. Fire Service. This year, the lives of ninety-eight firefighters who died across the United States in the line of duty in 2013 and nine firefighters who died in previous years, were honored during the memorial services at the National Fire Academy.

More than 5,000 people, including Members of Congress, administration officials and other dignitaries, members of the fire service, as well as families, friends, and co-workers of the fallen firefighters attend this event. Vigilant Hose Company’s Chief, Frank Davis, said, “In 2001, the night before the memorial service, I received a telephone call at 6:00 p.m. requesting seventy-five fire trucks on the grounds of the Fire Academy for the service the next day to prepare for the president to attend. We were up all night, but we did it.” President George W. Bush attended this service in 2000 and 2001. It was during the service in 2001, held just a month after 9/11, that President George W. Bush announced that he had to leave early in order to make a special announcement. That evening, he announced from the White House that our country was going to war.

Emmitsburg resident, Dr. Bill Meredith, is credited with dubbing Emmitsburg with the nickname,  Firetown, USA. After retiring as a professor from Mount St. Mary’s College, Dr. Meredith played in a band called the Firetown Band. The name caught on. Emmitsburg certainly lives up to its nickname. As home to the National Fire Academy and the grounds where the Fallen Firefighters Memorial is located, Emmitsburg sees a steady stream of firefighters and fire personnel throughout town. Vigilant Hose Company has become the most visited firehouse in the United States, even surpassing Station #10 and Ladder #10 at Ground Zero in New York City.

The Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg is also the home to the National Fire Heritage Center. The Center houses many interesting artifacts from famous fires and data about the how firefighting has evolved over the years. Visitors may see fire station log books from Station #10 at Ground Zero on 9/11/2001, from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where volunteers responded to a plane crash in a field on 9/11; and from Arlington County, Virginia, Engine Company 10, where volunteers watched as a plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. These log books and many, many artifacts make a trip to this museum fascinating.

On Saturday, despite some rain, the Red Helmet Riders cruised through Emmitsburg on their motorcycles to show support for the fallen. Later that evening, a quick procession of bag pipe bands traveled from the Vigilant Hose Company to the town square and then filled the Ott House Pub. These same bag pipe brigades and drum units—comprised of musicians from all over the country—came together to provide poignant music during the emotional memorial service on Sunday.

At the memorial service, families of the fallen received flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. What an honor it is to serve as hosts to such an impactful event. In the thirty-three years that this service has been held, Emmitsburg has been the host location for all services, except one. In 2002, due to the large number of firefighters who perished 9/11/2001, the service was held in Washington, D.C.

For a complete list of fallen firefighters being honored and a widget to display their information on your website, along with Memorial Weekend streaming information, videos, photos, and satellite coordinates, go to For information about the Vigilant Hose Company, visit the station in person at 25 West Main Street in Emmitsburg or online at For information about the National Fire Heritage Center, visit them in person on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg or online at