From New Zealand to New York, the world eagerly welcomed a new year Sunday with confetti-filled celebrations, glittering fireworks displays and star-studded festivities.
For one night, at least, revelers gathered and hoped for a better future, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.
In New York, hundreds of thousands gathered at the crossroads of the world to witness a crystal ball with more than 30,000 lights that descended at midnight.
Lady Gaga and Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the crowd in the final-minute countdown of the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.
Matheus Campos, a law student from Brazil, threw both arms in the air as the new year began in Times Square.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays.
Fireworks soared over Moscow’s Red Square, crowds on Paris’ Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight.
But many approached the new year with more relief than joy, as people battered by weather disasters, joblessness and economic uncertainty hoped the stroke of midnight would change their fortunes.
“It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us and I know 2012 has got to be better,” said Kyralee Scott, 16, of Jackson, New York, whose father spent most of the year out of work.
In Times Square, hundreds of thousands people crammed into spectator pens ringed by barricades, enjoying surprisingly warm weather.
Many expressed cautious hope that better times were ahead after a year in which Japan was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, hurricanes wreaked havoc across the country and a debt crisis devastated Europe’s economy.
“Everybody’s suffering. That’s why it’s so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody,” said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia.
For all of the holiday’s bittersweet potential, New York City always treats it like a big party — albeit one that now takes place under the watchful eye of a massive security force, including more than 1,500 police officers. The show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest also featured a performance by Justin Bieber.
In Las Vegas, fireworks were launched from eight rooftops at midnight.
Police earlier shut down a four-mile section of the Strip to vehicle traffic, letting revelers party in the street. Casino nightclubs touted pricey, exclusive bashes hosted by celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Bruno Mars and Fergie.
Thousands of New Year’s celebrants turned out in Salt Lake City for a variety of events organized by the Downtown Alliance, while in Seattle crowds were treated to a fireworks display that included barrages from the top of the city’s iconic Space Needle.
A typically busy New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles became even busier as police and fire crews remained on alert for more arson attacks, after dozens of deliberately set car fires hit the city in the early morning hours of Friday and Saturday.
Four suspicious car fires were reported Saturday evening.
The first worldwide celebrations started in the island nation of Samoa, which hopped across the international date line at midnight on Thursday, skipping Friday and moving instantly to Saturday.
Samoa and neighbouring Tokelau lie near the dateline that zigzags vertically through the Pacific Ocean; both sets of islands decided to realign themselves this year from the Americas side of the line to the Asia side to be more in tune with key trading partners.
In Sydney, more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme “Time to Dream.”
In London, some 250,000 people gathered to listen to Big Ben chime at the stroke of midnight. Scotland Yard said officers arrested 77 people during the celebrations.
World leaders evoked 2011’s struggles in their New Year’s messages with some ambivalence.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Europe’s crisis is not finished and “that 2012 will be the year full of risks, but also of possibilities.”
Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of 2011 with prayers of thanks and said humanity awaits the new year with apprehension but also with hope for a better future.
In Brazil, heavy rains didn’t halt parties as upward of 2 million people gathered on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro and nearly as many on a main avenue in Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city.
Massive fireworks displays and top music acts graced stages across the nation.
Brazil has seen healthy economic growth in recent years, as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
Growth, however, has stalled in recent months, and Brazilian leaders are trying to stimulate the economy in the new year.
“This was a good year for Brazil and I think things are only getting better, it feels like we’re making big advances,” said Fabiana dos Santos Silva, an 18-year-old student who gathered with hundreds of thousands of others on a main avenue in Sao Paulo.