New York: Hundreds of thousands of revellers rang in 2009 from frigid Times Square as the famous Waterford crystal ball dropped, signalling the end of a historic and troubled year that saw the election of the first black US president and the worst economic crisis in decades.
As the clock struck midnight, a ton of confetti rained down while the partygoers hugged and kissed.
The wind chill made it feel like 1 degree (-17 degree Celsius) in the area, but that didn’t deter the throngs who were cloaked in fur hats and sleeping bags.
Hearty welcome: Revellers blow horns as the famous Waterford crystal ball drops at the New Year’s eve festivities on Thursday in New York’s Times Square. Bill and Hillary Clinton were present on the occasion. Stephen Chernin / AP
“We’re worried about the economy but hoping for the best,” said Lisa Mills, of Danville, Ohio, visiting Times Square on Wednesday night with her husband, Ken, and 17-year-old daughter, Kara.
Former US president Bill Clinton and senator Hillary Clinton, who will become President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state on 21 January, helped New York mayor Michael Bloomberg lower the the famous Waterford crystal ball atop 1 Times Square for the countdown to midnight.
The new year also brought tragedy, as rescue workers in Thailand said at least 59 New Year’s revellers died in a fire that swept through a popular nightclub in Bangkok, with at least 200 injured.
In the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI called for “soberness and solidarity” in 2009. During a year’s end vespers service Wednesday evening, the pope said these times are “marked by uncertainty and worry for the future” but urged people not to be afraid and to help each other.
Other people tried to forget their troubles, for at least one night.
Six luxury cruise liners floated off Rio’s famed Copacabana beach as fireworks erupted over heads of approximately 2 million Brazilian revellers.
Roberto Felipe, a 22-year-old construction worker, was shirtless with a beer in hand as he watched the spectacle.
“I hope that tonight we begin the end of war and crisis,” said Felipe, who was wearing sunglasses at midnight. “I hope that 2009, which is bringing your President Obama to the scene, will help us all have a better life.”
Some American New Year’s Eve festivities fell victim to hard times, and those that remained felt somewhat subdued. The US economic troubles made many people less interested in giving 2008 an expensive send-off.
Public celebrations were cancelled in communities from Louisville, Kentucky, to Reno, Nevada, and promoters in Miami Beach, Florida, reported slower ticket sales than expected for celebrity studded parties that they say would have sold out in past years.
Tourism officials in Las Vegas expected more tourists in Sin City to celebrate New Year’s Eve than last year, despite economic worries that have meant fewer visitors in 2008, mayor Oscar Goodman said.
Around the world, people paused for a deep breath and a sip of...perhaps something cheaper than champagne.
“We’re not going to celebrate in a big way. We’re being careful,” said architect Moussa Siham, 24, as shoppers in the affluent area west of Paris were scaling back purchases for the traditional New Year’s Eve feast.
Sydney, Australia, was the world’s first major city to ring in 2009, showering its shimmering harbour with a kaleidoscope of light that drew cheers from more than a million people.
In Ireland, thousands of Dubliners and tourists gathered outside the capital’s oldest medieval cathedral, Christ Church, to hear the traditional New Year’s Eve bell ringing.
“It is a wondrously beautiful note on which to end what, for many people, has been an awfully out-of-tune 2008,” said Gary Maguire, a volunteer pulling the ropes.
On Dublin’s north side, Danny McCoy, a recently laid-off construction worker, mulled over his waning fortunes as he got his hair cut.
“Last New Year’s I had a fat wallet. I didn’t have to worry about paying for my round, never mind the taxi fare home,” he said. “Tonight I’ve a mind to keep the festivities close to home, because I can’t really afford to do anything.”
In Malaysia, the government —mindful of the shaky economy—chose not to sponsor any celebration at all.
In Hong Kong, thousands thronged around Victoria Harbour for a midnight fireworks display, but those with investments linked to collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. which filed the biggest corporate bankruptcy in US history in mid-September—were finding little joy.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for me to celebrate after knowing that my investment is worth nothing now,” said electrical repairman Chan Hon-ming, who had purchased a $30,000 (Rs14.61 lakh) Lehman-backed investment.
In Iceland, where people have been angry over the country’s collapsed economy, demonstrators forced an annual New Year’s Eve broadcast featuring the prime minister off the air, storming the hotel where it was being filmed. They threw fireworks and water balloons at police, who responded with pepper spray.
In India, many were happy to see the end of 2008 after a series of terrorist attacks in several cities, culminating in the three-day siege in Mumbai that killed 164 people.
“The year 2008 can best be described as a year of crime, terrorist activities, bloodshed and accidents,” said Tavishi Srivastava, 51, an office worker in Lucknow. “I sincerely hope that 2009 will be a year of peace and progress.”
In Athens, police said arsonists attacked at least ten banks and two car dealerships amid the celebrations, but no arrests or injuries were reported. Cities in Greece had riots recently over the fatal shooting of a teenage boy by police.
Celebrations were muted in China, where fireworks and feasting are reserved mainly for the Lunar New Year, which in 2009 begins 26 January.
At midnight in Japan, temples rang their bells 108 times —representing the 108 evils being struck out—as worshippers threw coins as offerings and prayed.
Windy weather and rough harbour waters caused Baltimore officials to postpone a New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration. Boston officials cancelled the city’s traditional midnight display because of a winter storm.
In Reno, officials cancelled their fireworks show for the first time since 2000 as a budget measure.
Louisville, Kentucky mayor Jerry Abramson expected to save $33,000 by cancelling a New Year’s Eve party he traditionally throws, a spokeswoman said.
Philadelphia planned to celebrate New Year’s Day with its more than century-old Mummers Parade, though it had fallen into jeopardy when city officials withdrew about $400,000 in support.
After weeks of limbo, the Mummers Association successfully raised enough private donations to continue the pageant filled with flamboyantly dressed performers, sometimes described as the city’s Mardi Gras.
Rich Porco, a Mummer for 51 years, said the uncertainty made this “one of the worst years I’ve ever been involved with”.
Instead of preparing for the festivities, “you found yourself thinking more about, ‘Is there going to be a parade?”’ Porco said. “It was hard.”
Ted Shaffrey in New York and writers Joelle Diderich in Paris; Damian Grass in Miami Beach, Florida; Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; and Thomas S. Watson in Louisville,Kentucky, contributed to this story.