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Three separate displays of fireworks will welcome the arrival of the new year in the twin cities of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ont.

The fireworks are part of a full schedule of activities planned daily through New Year's Day on both sides of the international border as the Festival of Lights winds down and the New Year begins.

The bright floodlights that illuminate the American and Horseshoe Falls will be lighted nightly, and they will be on from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. Thursday to provide a spectacular backdrop for New Year's Eve celebrations in the two cities of Niagara Falls.

A community celebration is scheduled from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Wednesday -- with family entertainment appropriate for people of all ages -- in Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, 305 Fourth St. A dinner-theater program with a "Viva Las Vegas" musical performance is scheduled for 9 p.m. in the convention center ballroom.

Fireworks and the ball drop symbolizing the arrival of 1998 will take place at midnight in E. Dent Lackey Plaza, outside the convention center. Outdoor illumination, animation, the fireworks and ball drop are free, but the Festival of Lights charges admission for some of the indoor events.

On the Canadian side of the Niagara River, early-bird fireworks are scheduled over the Falls at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday. The community New Year's Eve celebration there will take place from 7:30 p.m. to 12:25 a.m. in Queen Victoria Park, with another fireworks extravaganza above the falls at midnight.

This year's 17th annual Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, N.Y., will continue on Thursday until it's time for the final "lights out" at 11 p.m.

World of Animation exhibits in the Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet and the free entertainment stage in the adjoining Wintergarden will close for this season at 9 p.m. Thursday. Additional World of Animation exhibits in the convention center will close at 10 p.m., and the outdoor displays will go dark at 11 p.m.

In Niagara Falls, Ont., the Festival of Lights will continue daily through Jan. 20, with lighted outdoor displays in Queen Victoria Park at the edge of the river.

More than 500 volunteers donate their time to produce the annual Festival of Lights, which opens in November on both sides of the border. The event originated in 1981 when community leader Henry Kalfas saw the popularity of a lighted holiday display in Simcoe, Ont., and he brought the idea to Niagara Falls with the intent of extending the local tourist season through the winter holidays.

Promoters say that millions of people visit the annual Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ont., making it a premier attraction for tourists.

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