Fireworks burst over the Sydney Opera House, rigfht, as New Year's celebrations begin in Sydney, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
PARIS -- Fireworks glittered and boomed Sunday as revelers in Australia and Asia welcomed 2012 and others around the world looked forward to bidding adieu to a year marred by hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil.
In Sydney, more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme "Time to Dream" -- a nod to the eagerness many felt in moving forward after the rough year. Big crowds gathered under twinkling holiday lights on Paris' wide Champs Elysees boulevard to pop Champagne corks at midnight and New York's Times Square was awash in optimistic sentiments as it prepared to welcome hordes of New Year's Eve partiers.
The mood was a bit less bright in Europe, where leaders set the tone for a continent hammered by an unprecedented economic crisis that has put the euro's existence in question, turning in New Year's messages that 2012 will bring more financial hardship -- but also opportunities.
Hannah Magauer, a 26-year-old German who was visiting London for New Year's, tried to put a hopeful spin on Chancellor Angela Merkel's warning that 2012 would be more difficult than 2011.
"When you see all of Europe, everything seems to be falling apart and it's a bit scary," she said. "But, at the moment we are very positive we will survive it."
World leaders evoked 2011's events in their New Year's messages. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who starts his second term on New Year's Day, said he wants to help ensure and sustain the moves toward democracy that protesters sought in the Arab Spring.
Merkel said dealing with Europe's debt crisis would bring its countries closer. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wished well being and prosperity to all Russians "regardless of their political persuasion" after large-scale protests against him. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who polls suggest will be defeated by his Socialist challenger in spring elections, warned Europe's crisis is not finished and "that 2012 will be the year full of risks, but also of possibilities."
That ambivalence echoed at the Vatican, where a gold-robed Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of 2011 with prayers of thanks and said humanity awaits the new year with apprehension but also with hope for a better future.
In New York, the crowd cheered as workers lit the crystal-paneled ball that dropped at midnight Saturday. The sphere, 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.
"2012 is going to be a better year. It has to be," said Fred Franke, 53, who was visiting the city with his family even after losing his job in military logistics this month at a Honeywell International division in Jacksonville, Fa.