Little City Ready to Ring In New Year with 22nd Annual Watch Night

THE DESCENT OF THE STAR, shown here during Falls Church’s 2014 Watch Night festivities, will usher in the New Year at this Wednesday’s event. (Photo: Andrew Finein)

The City of Falls Church’s 22nd annual Watch Night New Year’s Eve celebration will see residents ring in a third decade under the star downtown, but will also set in motion an extended changing of the guard in the crew which helps make the whole operation go seamlessly.

Robert Goff, the City’s Superintendent of its Public Works department, will be overseeing his penultimate Watch Night on Tuesday ahead of his planned retirement in September 2021. Goff was key in taking the volunteer effort led by Barb Cram from the Village Preservation and Improvement Society and putting some professional polish on it, particularly with the unearthing of the long-dormant Watch Night star.

The free New Year’s Eve event is one of the largest the City puts on, along with its Fourth of July fireworks show at George Mason High School, and Goff has been showing four, 20-something public works employees how to handle setting up the event. Their grooming has been an ongoing process since Goff told the City that he planned to retire roughly seven years ago following Fairfax Water’s takeover of the City’s water system. The latest wrinkle he had the up-and-comers work on was doing the electrical work for the downtown street lights that went live in early December.

“They’re very young and very green, but I do have a couple of guys here that I believe are ready to be superintendent,” Goff said, adding the caveat that whoever is chosen needs to be willing to be on-call at all hours of the night. “I’ve told the City that they need to look into a succession plan, but I’m not sure they’ve taken it seriously, to be honest.”

Even with Goff still on board for the time being, Cram quipped that his help with Watch Night is invaluable, saying, “Robert knows where all the bodies are buried, which way they’re facing and what jewelry they’re wearing.”

This year’s celebration looks to bring some new technical elements as well as make use of Mr. Brown’s Park in its inaugural Watch Night.

Cram said spiffy new attractions such as a mechanical bull and the log jammer will be joining Fun Alley mainstays in the bungee jumping station, rock wall and velcro wall, the obstacle course and karaoke along Broad Street. Mr. Brown’s Park will have a warming station right behind it near the Unity Club entrance, and Cram intends to use a projector to display Instagram posts of people at the event on a loop on the Hot N’ Juicy Crawfish wall.

Additional lighting in the form of two large light towers will also be used to illuminate all of the celebration area, according to Goff, to go with a new sound system for music performers as well. And the star of the show (get it?), the Watch Night star itself, will also receive an upgrade with Goff and his crew adding a twinkling effect to it.

The Falls Church Episcopal’s 250th anniversary will be highlighted in the event as well, with the church’s new clergy staff taking on a greater role in helping run their activities, according to Cram. Music performers will include Sudden M Pac, Redacted and Northern Lights Orchestra, along with master of ceremonies Jeffrey Garofalo, will keep the jovial, community atmosphere alive and well.

“Falls Church is different. So many people know each other through the schools or churches or Chamber of Commerce events,” Cram said. “Lots of people participate in getting this thing together. It’s unusual for the area.”

Cram believes Watch Night has played a large role in disassembling the snooty image Falls Church once had, driven in part by the aggressive towing the City permitted. A tipping point was when a veteran who was home after serving in the Middle East was acknowledged at the event, and he mentioned to those near him that his car had just been towed. City Councilmember David Snyder took the veteran to the lot and paid his fee to make up for the incident. The City would focus on relaxing towing directives for future Watch Night’s from then on out.

Meanwhile, Goff conceded he’ll be getting a bit nostalgic about letting go of Watch Night once he sees that star rise Tuesday around midnight. Knowing where the star was hidden all those years and being a part of its establishment in City history is a point of pride of the Falls Church native. And even with one more New Year’s eve bash to usher in for 2021, he knows he’s on the start of his home stretch as a City employee.

Watch Night New Year’s Eve will kick off at 7 p.m. and go until midnight on the 100 block of West Broad St. in Falls Church. This event is free and open to all.