Students started congregating at 11 p.m. over kettle corn and hot chocolate. At 11:59 and 50 seconds, the countdown began.

But nay, it was not New Year’s. It was the much-anticipated opening of Yale’s Bass Library.

Only at Yale, students said, would the opening of a library draw over 1,000 students to Cross Campus and spur a night of partying around campus.

As the minutes ticked down toward midnight — when the doors of the newly-renovated Bass Library were thrown open for the first time — excitement emanated from the hundreds of students on Cross Campus. So did the scent of alcohol on many of their breaths.

“It is amazing to me to see so many people excited about a library,” William Wright II ’82, who donated $1 million to the renovations, told the crowd just minutes before the opening.

The masses broke out into intermittent chants all throughout the hour, and a pack of particularly unruly students led their own countdown more than 15 minutes before the opening. Meanwhile, a band intoned a Yale fight song.

As the doors opened, students streamed down the stairs into the library chanting, “We love books!”

“Let’s do it!” a student screamed. “To the library!”

One administrator said he was enchanted by the experience.

“This place is magic,” Michael Morand ’87 DIV ‘93, Yale Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs, said in an interview with the News. “Yale is a magic kingdom, and this has extended the magic.”

The midnight opening was the brainchild of Danuta Nitecki, an associate University librarian. She said she was inspired by the popular midnight launches of the books in the Harry Potter series — and judging by the crowd at Bass on Thursday night, students responded well to the idea.

Students around campus threw parties to celebrate the opening, including one in Swing Space that was publicized on an e-mail panlist.

“Come by, relax, enjoy yourself and then get ready, because as the witching hour of night approaches, we shall join the revelers at our newly renewed library,” a Jonathan Edwards College sophomore wrote in an invitation to friends. “Much fun will be had by all tonight, not to mention that being able to tell future generations that you pre-gamed a library opening is priceless. Only at Yale.”

Students at that party said they were glad they had the chance to prepare for the Bass bash.

“I’m pre-gaming CCL,” one self-aware reveler said, “because it is the epitome of geeky Yalies having fun.”

Said one visibly intoxicated girl as she arrived on Cross Campus, “I wish that our children were here to tell them that we were here, drunk as no other when the library opened. It’s too bad there’s no books, but we feel great.”

Other students said they would be drinking anyway on a Thursday night and found the library opening to be the evening’s main social event. Others interviewed said they came out of adoration of the library, or because they are bibliophiles.

“I’m proud to be part of an institution that puts so much care, thought, money and effort into books,” Sterling Professor of French R. Howard Bloch said. “A number of years ago, they declared the book dead, but has never been more alive than tonight.”

Students at the opening ranged from the curious and confused — like three graduate students who asked a reporter if Berkeley College was the new library, only to learn that Bass was actually underground — to the obscene. Two streakers crashed the opening, and several elbows were thrown as students tried to angle for best position in line to enter the library, but the Yale Police Department appeared to maintain relative order throughout the evening.

“With this crowd, if you only get two streakers — that’s not bad,” said a YPD officer working crowd control.

Yale President Richard Levin was not on the program for the opening. Earlier Thursday evening, Levin said in an interview that he was unsure if he would make it to the library’s opening.

“I’ll see how it feels,” Levin said. “It’s past my bedtime.”

When told of Elis’ plans for parties preceding the opening, Levin said he was not surprised and could understand why students would be so excited for the library’s debut.

“I think that’s terrific,” he told the News. “Yale libraries are really quite wonderful and miraculous places.”

—Nicolas Niarchos contributed reporting.