It was a glorious night for ringing in a new year.
Temperatures, unusually inviting for a New Year's Eve in Harford County, hovered around 43. Wind was non-existent. And many people had gathered around the Havre de Grace Middle School grounds for the annual Duck Drop and fireworks to welcome another new year.
The excitement was contagious. It was clear people were there to party and ring in the new year with a healthy dose of joy. One young man jogged down Lewis Lane to the middle school, and as he rounded the bases of the middle school's baseball diamond he gleefully told everyone, "Happy New Year!"
The crowd, which grew right up until midnight to around 500 people, donned an array of colorful party hats and quacked with its loud duck calls. One group set up a table and chairs, complete with what appeared to be illuminated champagne glasses.
Friends Cathy Groft and Deborah Hargrove, both of Newark, Del., came with their families, who were somewhere off mingling.
It was Groft's second time attending the Duck Drop, and she convinced Hargrove to come this year.
"I told her it was really cool. A do-not-miss," Groft said. Both were bundled in hats and coats and paced back and forth to stay warm. "It's worth every minute in the freezing cold."
Groft commented on how there is "no other place that has a Duck Drop," and that unique event is what added to Havre de Grace's allure. "This is so American, even the duck is American," she said, pointing to the American flag-esque duck at the top of the pole.
The camaraderie of locals coming together for one special night is what Nakina Haug, of Havre de Grace, enjoys most about the event.
She and her husband of more than 35 years, Tom Haug, came with a group of friends, who were all talking and laughing before the big moment.
The couple said they didn't make any resolutions for 2012 because, as Nakina Haug explained, "I break them."
As midnight drew closer, the crowd became more boisterous. There was clapping and cheering, and at one point it sounded like everyone was in a pond full of quacking ducks.
That low hum from the crowd that quickly became a louder buzz as the illuminated red, white and blue duck started its slow descent from the top of one of the Susquehanna Hose Co.'s tallest pieces of firefighting equipment that was extended to its fullest. As the duck reached the bottom of its drop, numbers began lighting up individually, teasing the crowd as it flashed single digits before bursting into what everyone had gathered to see: 2012.
As soon as the duck touched down and 2012 flashed up, the fireworks began. It was a spectacular show full of the thump of fireworks being launched, the whistle of them hurtling skyward, the flash of color and the booms that signaled the end of one shell, touching off the anticipation of the next and the next and the next.
Couples young and old kissed as more and more fireworks shot up into the sky. Kim Costa, of Aberdeen, and her family didn't stop blowing their noisemakers for most of the display.
"Where else can you holler and carry on and watch fireworks?" Costa asked, staring up into the sky as each of the glittering fireworks burst into different colors.
That's her favorite part of the Duck Drop — the fireworks — Costa said. She commented that this night's display was "right up there" with one of the best ones she's seen during the five or six years she's attended the event.
For the 2012, Costa made her very first resolution. While she didn't gives details, her hope for the New Year is one many share: "life improvement changes."
After about 17 minutes, Havre de Grace's distinctive New Year's Eve celebration was over and the hundreds at the Duck Drop and the hundreds more watching from their homes, headed off to the challenges (or is it the opportunities?) of 2012.