As clock struck 00:00AM in Hawaii and French Polynesia, the world’s last time zone entered the year 2012. From New Zealand to New York, Beijing to London, 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 unrest, hurricanes, tsunamis, wars, disasters 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.
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-Elyses 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.
“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.
“Everybody’s suffering. That’s why it’s so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody,” said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia.
The first worldwide celebrations started in the island nation of Samoa in Pacific Ocean. 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.
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.”
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.
Several people preparing to celebrate the holiday in the U.S. told the AP that they would usher in the New Year hoping the Congress would become a more cooperative place. Some talked about their hopes for the presidential election. Others said they hoped to hold on to their job, or find a new one to replace one they’d lost.
An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted Dec. 8-12 found that 62 percent of Americans are optimistic that the nation’s fortunes will improve in 2012, and 78 percent hopeful that their own family will have a better year. Most wrote off 2011 as a dud.