A blocks-long line of bundled-up revelers with New Year's hats and sunglasses boasting "2013" formed hours before the first ball drop in decades without Dick Clark, who died in April and was to be honored with a tribute concert and his name printed on pieces of confetti.
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.
Elsewhere hours earlier, lavish fireworks displays lit up skylines in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The United Arab Emirates city of Dubai then took up the baton with a spectacular display featuring multicolored fireworks dancing up and down the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. In Russia, Moscow's iconic Red Square was filled with spectators as fireworks exploded near the Kremlin.
Organizers said about 90,000 people gathered in a large field Yangon, Myanmar, for their first chance to do what much of the world does every Dec. 31 watch a countdown. The reformist government that took office last year in the country, long under military rule, threw its first public New Year's celebration in decades.
"We feel like we are in a different world," said Yu Thawda, a university student who went with three of her friends.
The atmosphere of celebration was muted in some places with concern.
Europe planned scaled-back festivities and street parties, the mood restrained if hopeful for a 2013 that is projected to be a sixth straight year of recession amid Greece's worst economic crisis since World War II. Hotels, clubs and other sites in New Delhi, the Indian capital, canceled festivities after the death of a rape victim on Saturday touched off days of mourning and reflection about women's safety. In the Philippines, where many are recovering from devastation from a recent typhoon, a health official danced to South Korean rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" video in an effort to stop revelers from setting off huge illegal firecrackers, which maim and injure hundreds of Filipinos each year.
And even in Times Square, some revelers checked their cellphones to keep up with news of lawmakers' efforts to skirt the fiscal cliff combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts that threatened to reverberate globally. And the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and Superstorm Sandy mingled into the memories of 2012.
"This has been a very eventful year, on many levels," Denise Norris said as she and her husband, the Rev. Urie Norris, surveyed the crowd seeking to jam Times Square for a countdown show with Ryan Seacrest as host and musical acts including Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Neon Trees, Flo Rida and Pitbull.
The Norrises usually spend New Year's Eve at the suburban Pittsburgh church where he's an associate pastor. But they'd booked a night at a Times Square hotel "just to experience this energy," she said. To her, that energy is a pulse of "putting behind the past and pressing ahead to the high calling."
About a block away, Army Sgt. Clint Evanoff waited in a black suit, red vest and red tie to get into Times Square with a couple of his friends from his unit at Fort Drum, N.Y. Evanoff, 20, is scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, his first deployment, in about two weeks.
Looking ahead to the new year, "I'm just hoping to make it back," he said.
Elsewhere, too, hopes for 2013 were a mix of personal and political. In Boston, communications writer and editor Colin O'Brien, 25, said he was optimistic that the nation had realized it was time to make tough decisions about its finances and policy and that there might be "more common ground than people are willing to admit or accept." In Harrisburg, Pa., warehouse worker Adam Gassner, 43, had more internal goals: "hoping to continue to get myself back on my feet."
Back 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.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa.; Jay Lindsay in Boston; Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar; Rod McGuirk in Sydney; Silvia Hui in London; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.