Revelers around the world welcomed in the new year on Monday — or prepared to — and in some cases, 2008 saw a rather dramatic beginning.
In Thailand, New Year's Eve parties were ruined by bombings that injured 27 people. In New Hampshire, several gay couples planned to take advantage of a new civil unions law. Smokers in France enjoyed their last cigarette puffs in restaurants and bars before a Jan. 1 smoking ban. And New York crowds awaited the dropping of an upgraded energy-efficient ball in Times Square.
Pedestrians started crowding the Times Square area even before the neon-lit crossroads were closed to vehicles for the 100th anniversary of the ball drop.
The first ball was an iron-and-wood contraption lit with 100 25-watt incandescent bulbs. Last year's version had more than 600 incandescent and halogen bulbs.
But the star of this year's extravaganza was lit up with 9,576 tiny, energy-efficient LEDs that organizers said would draw about as much electricity as 10 toasters. Philips Lighting, which made the light-emitting diodes, said they would be more than twice as bright as last year's energy-hungry lights.
A different sort of light show was set in Brooksville, Fla., where the ball being dropped was a 200-pound fiberglass tangerine, with lightbulbs inside. And in downtown Miami, the Big Orange will slowly climb to the top of the Hotel Inter-Continental, followed by a laser and fireworks show.
About 1 million people were expected for the 32nd First Night celebration in Boston. The party lineup included a half-dozen ice sculptures around the city, each weighing 30 to 45 tons, performances by hundreds of artists, and a midnight fireworks display over Boston Harbor.
Authorities in several cities including Phoenix, Dallas and Detroit pleaded with residents not to ring in the new year by shooting bullets skyward. Emergency Medical Service technicians in New Orleans even planned to don combat helmets made from the same fiber used in bullet-resistant vests for the second straight year.
The Chicago Transit Authority continued its New Year's Eve tradition of offering penny fares on buses and trains as thousands were expected to head to the city's fireworks shows on Navy Pier.
More than 300,000 people were expected to crowd the Las Vegas Strip and downtown resorts for the countdown to midnight. They were expected to spend more than $200 million in restaurants, theaters and clubs — with a big chunk of that going to the hefty door charge, usually around $250, at the Strip's slick nightclubs.
For that much money, patrons could see pop star Avril Lavigne, booked to host the party at the new Prive Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. The Luxor's LAX scored both Hilton sisters — Nicky and Paris — for its bash.
Sleeping bags and folding chairs were already in place Monday in Pasadena, Calif., at prime viewing spots for the 119th Rose Parade and its New Year's Day floats and marching bands.
"Everyone is going on adrenaline," said Larry Palmer, a spokesman for Phoenix Decorating Co., which built, designed and decorated 19 of the floats.
Revelers in other parts of the world have already rung in 2008.
In Sydney — one of the first cities to celebrate the New Year — one million revelers cheered as fireworks sprayed from the iconic Harbor Bridge. Fireworks displays were being repeated at the stroke of midnight in cities around the world.
Security was often tight. Traditional fireworks in central Brussels were canceled because of a terror threat after police last week detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused Al Qaeda militant break out of jail. In Paris, where festivities centered on the famous Champs-ElysDees avenue and the Eiffel Tower, about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.
In some cases, 2007 did not go quietly and 2008 was not ushered in without drama — or, at the very least, change.
Parties in Thailand were marred by bombings that wounded 27 people. In French cafes, smokers puffed on their last cigarettes in the run-up to a Jan. 1 smoking ban. And people in Cyprus and Malta had to start using the euro currency.
In Thailand, an army spokesman said he believed that five bombs set off by suspected Muslim insurgents in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town likely targeted New Year's revelers.
The bombs, which wounded 27 people, exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok, including two inside a hotel discotheque and one hidden in the carrying basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote said.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave the final New Year's Eve address of his eight-year presidency, boasting of economic improvements and claiming to have restored a sense of unity among Russians, who are likely to see him stay in power as prime minister after he steps down in a few months.
"We have not only restored Russia's territorial integrity," he said, referring to the abated threat from Chechen separatism. "But once again we feel we are a united people."
Several European countries rang in the new year with new habits.
Starting at midnight, one of France's most iconic institutions — the smoke-filled cafe — was to become a memory. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes will now be off-limits in discotheques, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes.
People can still smoke in their homes, hotel rooms and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that decide to provide them. Many bartenders and restaurant staffers are looking forward to breathing easier and to clothes that don't stink of tobacco.
Two EU newcomers, Cyprus and Malta, start using the euro at the stroke of midnight. The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, scrap the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira to bring the number of countries using the shared currency to 15. Politicians will ceremonially withdraw euros from automatic teller machines after midnight, with fireworks and outdoor celebrations in the two capitals, Nicosia and Valletta.
Along with the innovations, old European traditions were maintained.
In London, people were gathering in Trafalgar Square and along the banks of the River Thames to watch a fireworks display and hear Big Ben — Parliament's iconic bell — welcome the New Year with 12 resounding bongs.
In a quirky tradition in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, Madrid residents planned to dine on 12 grapes — one for each chime at midnight.
Berlin was braced for a massive fete: In a stretch leading from the city's famous Brandenburg Gate along Tiergarten park to the western part of town, officials set up three stages, 13 bands, a 40-meter (40-yard) tall Ferris wheel and over 100 beer stands and snack joints.
Across the ocean, revelers in New York converged on Times Square to watch the dropping of a new energy-efficient ball, while gay couples in New Hampshire awaited the stroke of midnight to take advantage of a new law allowing civil unions.
More than 300,000 people were expected to crowd the Las Vegas Strip and downtown resorts for the countdown to midnight. They were expected to spend more than $200 million (euro135.86 million) in restaurants, theaters and clubs.
In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI took a somber note, lamenting what he called the "trivialization" of sexuality and lack of faith among young people during a vespers' service in St. Peter's Basilica.
In Asia, China started its Olympic year with a New Year party including fireworks, singing and dancing.
The party, put on by the organizers of the Summer Olympics, saw Beijingers flock in the cold to the Millennium Monument, capping a year in which frenzied construction of ultramodern Olympic venues and other projects changed the face of Beijing. From Jan. 1, there will be 220 days until the start of the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.
Back in the United States, gay couples in New Hampshire awaited the stroke of midnight to take advantage of a new law allowing civil unions.
About 20 couples decided to be the first to take advantage of New Hampshire's new civil-unions law with a midnight ceremony on the Statehouse steps in Concord. Snow and freezing temperatures were forecast.
"I don't have any winter coats with rhinestones and glitter, so I'm just going to dress warmly," said organizer and participant Jennifer Major of Gilmanton, N.H.
About 1,000 runners had signed up to greet the New Year with the 10th Annual First Night 5K race at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen since Sunday, but the race has never been canceled, usually because crews start cleaning the course immediately after a snowfall.
"I think what happens on a day like this is that runners are even more motivated and challenged to run," said Ray O'Conor, a bank president who runs it almost every year. "I'm not sure what that says about our mental makeup!"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.