Ring in the New Year with gunfire - Billy Corriher

While many Americans are ringing in the New Year at parties or in bars, the residents of Cherryville, N.C., will welcome the year with the booming sound of exploding gunpowder.

Every year, residents of the town gather at the local stadium to kick off a New Year's tradition that is at least 150 years old (many say it's much older).

At midnight, dozens of men with muskets, guns dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, crowd onto the high school football field. After the Speech Crier kicks off the ceremony with the traditional New Year's folk ballad, the men fire their guns toward the heavens.

The folks in the crowd, young and old, erupt in cheers and applause as the shooters, dressed in long, dark trench coats and Confederate caps, walk off the field with the smoke from their muskets still lingering like a gray fog.

The muskets have no ammunition, and the gunpowder tradition seems to have been handed down from the town's German settlers, who fired the guns for good luck and to protect the town from dangerous spirits.

The shooters then pile into pick-up trucks and the backs of rented U-Haul's to roam around the town for 18 hours, stopping at dozens of homes and sites to perform the ritual again. At some sites, the shooters stop to remember and honor their deceased comrades.

As a child, I can remember my uncles and their buddies having a blast crowded into the trucks like sardines. Fathers and sons, brothers and old friends gather to laugh, sip whiskey, and talk about years past. The shooters don't stop for sleep and raise hell all night.

At the site of every firing, a passage from the crier's ballad reminds the town to respect the passage of time, and to make the most of every day, every new year.

"Time by moments steal away

First the hour and then the day,

Small the lost days may appear,

But yet they soon amount to a year."

The poem goes on to remind us that the time we are given is a gift that we should not take for granted.

And on no other occasion do Cherryville residents celebrate life as much as New Year's Day. The unique tradition is the biggest day of the year for the town. Many cherish the opportunity to visit with family and friends they haven't seen since last year's shoot. They party like it's a small town Mardi Gras.

Every time a new year begins, we should all resolve to squeeze as much life out of it as we can.

Billy Corriher covers county government for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 or via e-mail at bcorriher@news-daily.com