With glittering fireworks and star-studded celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hoped for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.
Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America 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 and sparked over Moscow’s Red Square, crowds on Paris’ Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight, and up to a million revelers were expected to jam New York’s Times Square for the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.
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.
“Once the ball drops, I won’t give 2011 another thought,” said Kyralee Scott, 16, of Jackson, N.J., whose father spent most of the year out of work. “It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us and I know 2012 has got to be better.”
Some New York revelers, wearing party hats and “2012” glasses, began camping out Saturday morning, even as workers readied bags stuffed with hundreds of balloons and technicians put colored filters on klieg lights. The crowds cheered as workers lit the crystal-paneled ball that drops at midnight Saturday and put it through a test run, 400 feet above the street. The sphere, now decorated with 3,000 Waterford crystal triangles, has been dropping to mark the new year since 1907, long before television made it a U.S. tradition.
In Times Square, hundreds of thousands people were crammed into spectator pens ringed by barricades, enjoying surprisingly warm weather for the Northeast this time of year. The National Weather Service said Saturday it was about 49 degrees in nearby Central Park. That’s about 10 degrees warmer than the normal high temperature this time of year.
As the country prepared for the celebration, glum wasn’t on the agenda for many, even those who had a sour year.
“We’re hoping the next year will be better,” said Becky Martin, a former elementary school teacher who drove from Rockford, Ill., to Times Square after spending a fruitless year trying to find a job. “We’re starting off optimistic and hoping it lasts.”
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.