Despite months of economic gloom, revelers throughout the country welcomed the new year with merrymaking and even optimism, though some festivities fell to hard times and others remained subdued.
"The worst part of last year was probably trying to get through financially," said Liza Mazzotte, a composer who had traveled from California to New York to join hundreds of thousands of celebrants in frigid Times Square to see the famous Waterford crystal ball drop on Wednesday. "I'm not worried about what I lost. I'm going to be looking to the future."
As the clock struck midnight, a ton of confetti fluttered down on the revelers bundled up in fur hats, coats and sleeping bags. Fireworks burst atop the tower where the ball descended. Noisemakers screeched, partygoers kissed and cheers could be heard echoing through the corridors of midtown Manhattan.
Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton helped Mayor Michael Bloomberg lower the ball atop 1 Times Square for the 60-second countdown to midnight. Last year, Hillary Clinton was in Iowa campaigning for the presidency, and now she's expecting to be secretary of state in President-elect Barack Obama's administration.
Economic troubles in mind
Many other New Year's Eve traditions around the country were in place, but the nation's economic troubles made many people less interested in giving 2008 an expensive send-off. Public celebrations were canceled in communities from Louisville, Ky., to Reno, Nev., and promoters in Miami Beach, Fla., reported slower ticket sales than expected for celebrity-studded parties that they say would have sold out in past years.
But New York's celebration was still going strong. Five minutes before midnight, 1,000 balloons with the words "Joy," "Hope" and "2009" were released from rooftops in the area. The Waterford crystal ball — 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds — dropped as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Sam Tenorio and his family drove to New York from Orlando, Fla., so his teenage daughter Brianna could see the Jonas Brothers perform live in Times Square.
"The economy is what it is. It's going to turn around. You just have to be positive," Tenorio said. "That's what we're doing, otherwise we wouldn't be here. I think that's why most people are here tonight: optimism."
Some waited hours penned up behind barricades, buffeted by icy wind and low temperatures, to catch a glimpse of the ball drop.
Among them was 19-year-old Samantha Smith, who had traveled with her fiance and a group of college friends from Florida. She wore a face mask and had stuffed hand warmers in her gloves. "I'm kind of comfortable because I have a ton of layers on," she said, adding that she was having fun anyway.
Along with the Jonas Brothers, Lionel Richie and the Pussycat Dolls performed. Dick Clark made several TV appearances from inside a studio, and Ryan Seacrest hosted the event.
Knievel Jr.'s jump
Las Vegas casinos put on a midnight fireworks display and daredevil acts, including a 200-foot jump at The Mirage hotel-casino by Robbie Knievel, son of the late Evel Knievel.
The stunt made Knievel appear to jump over a manmade volcano perched in front of the hotel-casino, though he actually jumped next to it as it spewed a fireball under him for live spectators.
A spokesman for the biggest player on the Las Vegas Strip, MGM Mirage Inc., said more than 90 percent of rooms were filled, albeit at historically low prices reflective of a down year for tourism and gambling. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said the strip would be packed with around 290,000 people.
David Reed, 34, of Henderson, made an exception to his usual year-end festivities to be one of them.
"I had a strict philosophy of not going anywhere near the Strip on New Year's Eve," said Reed, who lost his job in May as an office worker. "I wanted to say good riddance to 2008, 2008 sucked."
Some celebrations didn't go off as planned. Aspen, Colo., authorities evacuated a large section of downtown and canceled fireworks over Aspen Mountain after suspicious packages and threatening notes were left at two banks. Windy weather and rough harbor waters caused Baltimore officials to postpone a New Year's Eve fireworks celebration. In Reno, officials canceled their fireworks show for the first time since 2000.
"With the downturn in the economy, with people getting laid off and with the tightening of budgets all over town, we just didn't think it was right to spend $20,000 or $30,000 on something that goes up in smoke," Mayor Bob Cashell said.
Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson expected to save $33,000 by canceling a New Year's Eve party he traditionally throws.
Elkhart, Ind., planned a party at its outdoor skating rink, with volunteers leading some games, instead of a $5,000 event with fireworks. The city hadn't gotten any complaints about the scaled-back celebration, said Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to the mayor.
"I think most people understand," he said.
In Pasadena, Calif., hundreds of thousands of spectators were expected for the Rose Parade. Organizers said any economic hit they might have suffered was lessened because commitments to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on floats have been in place for at least a year.
"We may or may not feel the effects of the economy this year, but more likely next year," Tournament of Roses Chief Operating Officer Bill Flinn said. "We do feel one of our jobs is to bring optimism at a time when things are not so good for so many people."