The people flooding the streets of downtown Spokane Monday night excited Kyle Litzenberger the most.
“They’re celebrating my birthday,” the new 14-year-old said with a smirk.
That’s one benefit of a Dec. 31 birthday: There’s always a party going on. But the beauty of First Night Spokane, the annual alcohol-free, family-friendly New Year’s celebration, is that it’s for everyone, birthday boy or not.
Litzenberger, who attends Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane, spent the evening walking around, checking out vendor booths and greeting friends on winter break.
“You see everybody,” he said.
That’s one of the best things about First Night, said classmate Kim Miller, 13. “We got in trouble by the mall cops because we started freaking out when I saw my friends,” she said.
Miller was one of about 500 volunteers staffing the downtown celebration. She and two friends sold blinking-light necklaces until about 9 p.m., then were free to roam. They “definitely” planned to make it until midnight, she said.
Down the street, Coeur d’Alene resident Nikolai Terry wasn’t so sure. “As soon as the fireworks are over, we’re on the first shuttle home,” he said. “We’ve got kids to put away.”
He and his wife, Michelle, brought their three children to Spokane for their first First Night experience. Dressed in purple and pink winter coats and pants, 5-year-old Paige and 3-year-old Emily looked a bit like the blue and pink cotton candy they munched on.
“I like doughnuts, too,” Paige said. “And hot dogs.”
She was in the right place. Several food vendors lined the downtown streets, and restaurants stayed open to accommodate the more than 25,000 people expected to attend this year’s celebration.
When First Night began seven years ago, just one place – a coffee shop – stayed open, said volunteer chairwoman Lois Irwin, of Spokane.
“Now it’s a real happening place,” Irwin said. “It gives us a New Year’s where people can actually bring their kids instead of leaving them at home.”
Barry Thrash and his wife, Debra, brought their granddaughters to participate in the parade and catch the fireworks. The girls made masquerade masks and capes at the Spokane Convention Center, then joined hundreds of others for a march to River Park Square.
“We were the ones who were drumming,” said 9-year-old Samantha Tolman, plastic bucket in hand.
“Then everybody started playing with us because we were rocking,” said her 6-year-old sister, Emma.
While the most pint-sized of celebration-goers seemed enamored of the parade and fireworks show, a snowboarding competition proved to be a big draw for the under-30, over-10 crowd.
In its second year, the “rail jam” competition sponsored by www.spinneybent.com featured about 70 snowboarders of all ages and abilities performing tricks on snow-covered rails under bright lights.
Jacob St. John and friends traveled from Chewelah to compete. Had he not made the trip, he and his friends would be “partying” back home like everyone else, he said.
But not everyone parties at home.
“Usually we fall asleep in front of the TV wondering why Dick Clark is still alive,” Terry said.