If you are in Jamaica, an excellent way to close out the old year and ring in the new year, is Fireworks on the Waterfront, a free annual event in downtown Kingston at Victoria Pier, beside the seventh largest natural harbour in the world. The event is an acknowledgement of the Jamaican people’s achievements, hopes and aspirations and a sociocultural link spot for old and young, locals and visitors from Europe, the USA, Japan and the Caribbean.

Onlookers ready to ring in the new year on the waterfront

It was first staged in 1999 as Jamaica joined the rest of the world in ushering in the new millennium, and was intended to be a one-off activity. The next year crowds turned up expecting a repeat and left disappointed. Since then, with the exception of when a public health scare forced a ban on public gatherings, patrons have turned out in droves with crowds of up to 300,000. This year will also mark the third staging of the Fireworks event in Ocho Rios.

Victoria Pier is bordered by the Kingston business district, close to the Bank of Jamaica, Digicel, Scotia Centre, Grace Kennedy, the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and the Jamaica Stock Exchange, housed in the former Myrtle Bank Hotel, one of Jamaica’s first hotels. Across the harbour, you can see the Caribbean Maritime University and the Palisadoes strip leading to the Norman Manley International Airport, with planes taking off and landing.

Meeting Spot, Melting Pot, Food Stop

From as early as midday, the buzz begins, as families and individuals journey from far and near, to soak up the warm, positive New Year’s Eve energy, spend quality time together and reconnect with old friends. There is a kiddies’ village, a central hub offering wholesome activities including rides, face painting, storytelling, balloon art and clowns.

Later in the evening, the shuttles bring persons who opt to use the ‘park and ride’ option from designated points including the National Heroes Park and Garmex on Marcus Garvey Drive.

Patrons enjoying the stage show at Fireworks on the Waterfront

There is a lot of economic activity and public health certified vendors selling traditional Jamaican street food – jerk chicken and pork, chicken foot, bussu soup and mannish water, boiled and roasted corn and roasted breadfruit and saltfish. The peanut man with his whistling cart, and the cane and coconut man do brisk business. Itinerant vendors vend Jamaica branded items and noisemakers and community residents work as marshals and runners.

Entertainment for Everyone

Entertainment begins as early as 3.00 p.m. and goes on into the wee hours of the morning. Patrons get the opportunity to see several top notch vintage performers and contemporary artistes, for free. Speeches are kept to a minimum and emcees skilled at whipping up crowd energy hold the big public party together.

Several genres of entertainment are represented and there is something for everyone –comedy, dance, fashion, drumming and of course music. In the afternoon and early evening there is a display of amateur talent, and for wannabee artistes, this is a good space to ‘buss’. The event is streamed live on national TV and on the internet, so others can enjoy the party.

The gospel segment is always a big hit and the popular gospel artistes ‘tun it up’ and have the crowd singing, dancing in praise and worship. At midnight the explosion of “oohs” and “aahs” signal appreciation as patrons are mesmerized by the magnificent display fireworks on the harbour, which can be seen from parts of Kingston, St. Andrew, St Catherine and St. Thomas.

The big Reggae concert, which usually starts on the other side of midnight has in the past featured artistes such as Shaggy, Chronixx, Beenie Man, Agent Sasco, Romaine Virgo, Elephant Man, Busy Signal, Ken Boothe, Judy Mowatt and Queen Ifrica. The vibe is electric and patrons enjoy the best of Jamaica in a spirit of unity. It’s the new year!

The event, organized by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), is a safe space with hundreds of police and security personnel and support from government agencies including the fire department, the health department, the National Works Agency and the Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation, KSAMC.