Hundreds of thousands of revelers rang in the new year from frigid Times Square in New York as the famous Waterford crystal ball dropped, signaling the end of a historic and troubled year that saw the election of the first black US president and the worst global economic crisis in decades.
As the clock struck midnight, a tonne of confetti rained down, while the partygoers hugged and kissed.
“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 US president-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state on Jan. 21, helped New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg lower the famous Waterford crystal ball atop 1 Times Square for the countdown to midnight.
Revelers also braved freezing conditions in London to see the New Year fireworks spectacular on the banks of the River Thames, which engulfed the London Eye in a blaze of color.
An estimated 400,000 people lined the embankments to catch the 10-minute salvo, which lit up the misty night sky over the British capital, while the Scottish capital Edinburgh's traditional Hogmanay knees-up opened a year-long “Homecoming” festival aimed at the country's diaspora.
About 100,000 people gathered in the main square of Bratislava to celebrate Slovakia's becoming the 16th member of the eurozone, exactly 10 years after the single European currency was introduced.
Two 18-year-old students, David and Laco, were selling kisses for a euro each among a crowd of partying people sporting flashing headbands, hats and colorful wigs.
In Prague, the Czech Republic took over the EU presidency from France at midnight as a top government official illuminated a giant pendulum on a hill above Prague with blue and yellow.
In Venice, some 30,000 welcomed in the new year with a collective kiss.
The new year also brought tragedy, as rescue workers in Thailand said at least 59 New Year's revelers 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” this year. During a year's end vespers service on Wednesday evening, the pope said these times were “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 revelers.
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 US 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 last year an expensive send-off.
Public celebrations were canceled 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.