"With all the sadness in the country, we're looking for some good changes in 2013," Laura Concannon, of Hingham, Massachusetts, said as she, her husband, Kevin, and his parents joined hundreds of thousands of revelers lined up for blocks through bustling Times Square on Monday.
Revelers with New Year's hats and sunglasses boasting "2013" packed the streets in the 35-degree Fahrenheit (2-degree Celsius) cold to count down the first ball drop in decades without television host Dick Clark, who died in April and was honoured with his name printed on pieces of confetti and on one of the crystal panels on the Times Square ball.
Matias Dellanno, 37, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, stood in the middle of the square with his wife and 3-year-old son, beaming with joy as his eyes caught the multicolored lighting illuminating the square just before midnight.
"I feel a completely new hope for 2013," he said. "It can't be any worse than last year, when my business lost clients. It was a rough year for everyone. The new year has to be better!"
Security in Times Square was tight, with a mass of uniformed police and plainclothes officers assigned to blend into the crowd. With police Commissioner Raymond Kelly proclaiming that Times Square would be the "safest place in the world on New Year's Eve," officers used barriers to prevent overcrowding and checkpoints to inspect vehicles, enforce a ban on alcohol and check handbags.
Syracuse University student Taylor Nanz, 18, said she and a friend had been standing in Times Square since 1:20 p.m. Monday. They hadn't moved from their spot because "if you leave, you lose your place," she said, shivering behind an iron barricade with a clear view of One Times Square, the building where the crystal ball hovered.
"It's the first time - and the last time," she said.
Elsewhere, lavish fireworks displays lit up skylines in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, multicolored fireworks danced early Tuesday up and down the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated New Year's Eve with a vespers service in St. Peter's Basilica to give thanks for 2012 and look ahead to 2013. He said that despite all the death and injustice in the world, goodness prevails.
In Russia, spectators filled Moscow's iconic Red Square as fireworks exploded near the Kremlin. In Rio de Janeiro, revelers dressed head-to-toe in white as dictated by Brazilian New Year's tradition flooded onto Copacabana beach for a concert.
In Times Square, Elvis Rivera, of Manhattan, was taking photos to capture the moment. He wasn't planning to ring in the New Year there but went by to take pictures.
How did he feel about the end of 2012?
"Relieved," Rivera said, adding that there had been a death and job losses in his family this year.
His hopes for 2013?
"A better life" and more money, he said.