Thousands of New Year's Eve revelers ignored the sleet and snow and packed into Times Square with their "2006" glasses, waving balloons and working noisemakers for the famous ball drop and countdown of the final minutes of 2005.

"I love my spot!" said an excited Linda Smith, who had secured a prime view before noon after taking a bus from Columbus, Ohio, for the celebration.

Fireworks burst above the square at 6 p.m. when the 1,070-pound Waterford crystal ball was raised.

In Boston, ice sculptures, parades, parties and fireworks kicked off the annual First Night celebrations.

Tyler Landergren, 14, joined the early crowds on Boston Common, a stocking cap pulled down past his eyebrows and a $5 plastic horn in hand.

"It's a very happy night — 2006!" yelled Landergren, an eighth-grader from Gloucester. He puffed his cheeks and blew hard on the horn, letting loose a long, low rumble.

Forecasters predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow in the city, with lows in the 20s, but partygoers were still in the spirit.

"I'd take snow over rain any day," said reveler Ryan Angelopolus, 27, whose "2006" glasses lit up to mark the night. As merchants pointed out, the specs could be turned upside down and used again in 9005.

The theme in Boston was Mardi Gras, in honor of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. The "Spirit of New Orleans" parade featured carnival masks, and jazz bands joined in.

New Orleans itself celebrated with a traditionally festive jazz funeral procession in memory of the hurricane victims. The city decided to welcome the New Year with fireworks, concerts and a tongue-in-cheek lowering of a giant gumbo pot to mark the start of 2006.

"We're getting into the spirit," said Sharif Nadir, a 59-year-old writer who joined in. "I just hope it puts people into the spirit to rebuild."

Flooding forced Reno, Nev., to move its New Year's Eve fireworks back a day to Monday, but the mayor still promised to lead a countdown.

Las Vegas kept in character — everything to excess — with the Strip's drunken revelry, a mass simultaneous New Year's Eve toast, complete with 14,000 plastic cups and some 200 cases of Chardonnay, and an annual blowout billed as the largest New Year's Eve party outside New York.

Dick Clark was returning to Times Square to host ABC-TV's "New Year's Rockin' Eve" for a worldwide broadcast audience estimated at 1 billion people.

Clark, 76, has missed the celebration only once in 32 years — last year, when he was recovering from a stroke and Regis Philbin filled in.

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis was a guest of honor to welcome 2006, along with city workers who joined in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans. Together, they were invited to start the one-minute descent of the Time Square ball.