NEW YORK — With glittering fireworks and star-studded celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hope for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.
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 and sparkled over Moscow's Red Square, crowds on Paris' Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight, and up to a million revelers were jamming 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.
Some New York revelers, wearing party hats and "2012" glasses, began camping out Saturday morning in Times Square. The crystal-paneled ball, 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.
"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."
"Everybody's suffering. That's why it's so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody," said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia.
In Key West, three separate New Year's Eve drops were planned for midnight celebrations. A giant facsimile of a conch shell was being lowered at Sloppy Joe's Bar. At the Schooner Wharf Bar, the bar owner, dressed as a pirate wench, was dropping down from a mast of a tall sailing ship. And at the Bourbon Street Pub complex, a drag queen named Sushi was descending inside a glittering, 6-foot, red, high heel shoe.
An Associated Press 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 were hopeful their own family would have a better year. Most wrote off 2011 as a dud.