Asides: How Pittsburgh kicked off the new year

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THE NEW YEAR is most famously celebrated by the Scots, who call it hogmanay for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, or old times. But Pittsburghers have their own tradition called First Night, the 20th edition of which drew thousands of people Downtown on New Year’s Eve. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — which took over the celebration 11 years ago — provided plenty of family-friendly attractions for the crowds, including concerts, a parade, face painting, theater performances, an ice labyrinth and, of course, Zambelli fireworks.The latest Highmark First Night carried on the tradition splendidly. It’s onward and upward in 2014, just like the rising ball that announced the new year in Pittsburgh, not like the one in New York that descends.

FOR THOSE WHO attended a more alcohol-friendly event and perhaps picked up a hangover by downing too many cups of kindness, as the “Auld Lang Syne” lyrics suggest, the perfect way to jump-start the body came on New Year’s at 9:30 a.m. That’s when hundreds of Pittsburghers threw caution and coats to the wind and plunged into the frigid river at the Mon Wharf. The Pittsburgh Polar Club has being doing this for years, but some charitable method has been added to their winter madness. This year’s event, which seemed more popular than ever, was a fund-raiser for Project Bundle-Up, which helps needy families receive a new coat, scarf, hats, boots and gloves. For those who took the plunge, the rest of the year will be only an improvement.

IT WASN’T JUST human polar bears who have started the new year with better prospects for 2014 — it was 32 cats and 25 dogs who were slated to be euthanized after being lost, abandoned or given away. Animal Friends in Ohio Township took them in from kennels and shelters in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Greene counties as part of its 17th annual New Year’s Eve rescue. Starting Tuesday morning, the dogs and cats were given new names based on Dr. Seuss characters and prepared for adoption. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet who wrote “Auld Lang Syne” and found compassion even for a mouse (“a wee ... timorous beastie”) would have approved.

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