The eve of each New Year is often spent in celebration with friends and family. Regardless of the venue where New Year’s Eve is spent, traditions often play a significant role in the festivities. Popular traditions in the United States range from watching the Times Square ball drop to kissing at midnight to eating black-eyed peas and collard greens. However, for the men of Cherryville, the stroke of midnight ignites a town tradition that dates back more than 200 years.
According to Gary Dellinger, President of the Cherryville Traditional Shooters, the musket shooting ritual originates from Germany and is supposed to bring good luck by warding off bad spirits with the black powder expelled from the weapons.
“Some use original muskets that date back to the Civil War era,” Dellinger said. “Others use reproduction guns.”
For the past 25 years, Dellinger has participated in this annual tradition.
“Growing up in Cherryville, it was the thing to do,” Dellinger said. “So I decided to join when I was 16.”
While there is no age limit to join, those under the age of 16 are required to have a parent or guardian present.
While many American New Year’s Eve traditions end shortly after midnight, the Cherryville Traditional Shooters’ night has only just begun. The group starts their celebration outside of the Cherryville City Hall building at midnight and from there begins a 100 mile journey across the county.
“We fire about 60 shots over an 18 hour period,” Dellinger said. “So, we end up finishing the ritual around 6:30 pm New Year’s Day. A lot of businesses and houses invite us to shoot.”
He explains that each visit on the route takes roughly 15 minutes.
“When we get to the house or business, we greet the people with a traditional chant,” Dellinger said. “It’s an old blessing for the New Year. Then we start shooting, two to three at a time.”
Traditionally, residents or business owners would offer a cup of coffee or some fruit for the musket shooters. Over the past few years, however, many have opted to give a monetary donation. For the past three years, Dellinger said the Cherryville Traditional Shooters have collected the donations and put the money toward a scholarship for a Cherryville High School senior.
“Once we collect the donations, we generally match the amount,” Dellinger said. “Last year, we received enough to give for two different scholarships.”
The weekend before New Year’s Eve, the Cherryville Traditional Shooters also travel along their Lincolnton route, which Dellinger says typically consists of 30 stops.
Today, there are two groups that celebrate using this German custom: the Cherryville Traditional Shooters and the Cherryville New Year’s Eve Shooters with 200 and 300 active members respectfully. According to Dellinger, they originally started as a single group, but decided to split into two organizations in 1955.
“Essentially, the group was getting too big, and people starting having different ideas as to how to run it,” Dellinger said.
While Dellinger admits there have been a few noise complaints over the years, the group has taken measures to ensure the tradition is a safe and enjoyable experience for all.
“We always have a debriefing with the local police afterwards to discuss any complaints or ways to improve next year’s celebration,” Dellinger said. “The majority of the complaints stem from hearing people shooting their muskets before New Year’s to practice.”
Safety is also an important factor to the group to prevent bodily and property harm.
“With the increasing numbers in participation, it’s important to try to keep up with safety precautions and make sure everyone is careful,” Dellinger said. “We only shoot at locations we’ve been invited to.”
One of the challenges Dellinger cited was the rising cost of participating in the tradition.
“Twenty-five years ago, you could buy a gun for $300,” Dellinger said. “Now, buying a new reproduction gun will cost you $1,000. And the price of powder is getting more expensive. A pound of powder costs about $14, and a member can use about six pounds for the annual full route”
With members traveling from Georgia, South Carolina and across the state of North Carolina, Dellinger said that the New Year’s tradition is one of the only times everyone can get together.
“It’s a chance to catch up with people you don’t get to see any other time of the year,” he said.