Belfast Mayor Mike Hurley, at right, with his wife Therese Bagnardi, left, who operates the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, and Mary Mortier, executive director of Belfast New Year's By The Bay, unveil a new banner announcing the city's annual Dec. 31 celebration in 2006. Credit: Tom Groening / BDN

Organizers formally canceled Belfast’s annual New Year’s festival after nearly 25 years.

Since 1996, between 1,000 and 4,000 people have gathered downtown to ring in the New Year with more than 10 hours of food, dancing, music, marching, drumming, activities and a bonfire.

But two years ago, the festival was put on hold because of COVID-19 safety concerns. Since then, core organizer Mary Mortier retired, and no one has volunteered to take the lead.

“It was time for someone new or a new organization to step up and take it over. And I have not had success in making that happen,” she said. “Right now, in my gut, I feel like [2020] was the last of it.”

Each year, organizers called for 100 volunteers to help run the festivities on New Year’s Eve, but Mortier says much more is needed to make sure Belfast welcomes the New Year with a bang.

“There needs to be a real core board of passionate, engaged people for the year leading up to it,” Mortier said.

As time passed, Mortier has found people aren’t willing or able to make the same commitments they used to. All the while, Mortier said her passion for the event shrank — especially during the start of the pandemic.

“I just kind of lost that drive that kept pushing me to continue it,” she said.

With her mind made up, Mortier began shutting down the nonprofit organization attached to New Year’s by the Bay this past fall.

City Councilor Mike Hurley is still planning his portion of the celebration: the traditional Drum and Rabble Marching Society parade and bonfire that started in 2006.

People will gather at the intersection of Main and High streets at 11:30 p.m. with drums, gongs, pots, pans and cans and march down to the harbor to enjoy a bonfire as they welcome in the New Year.

“On New Year’s Eve, the people like to have a climactic moment: ‘something happened, there was a turning point of the year.’ If we didn’t have the bonfire, if we didn’t have the Drum and Rabble, it’d be a dreary thing,” Hurley said.