NEW YORK – Despite months of economic gloom, revelers throughout the country welcomed the new year with merrymaking and even optimism, though some festivities fell to hard times and others were subdued.
"The worst part of last year was probably trying to get through financially," said Liza Mazzotte, a composer who had come from California to join the hundreds of thousands of celebrants in frigid Times Square to see the Waterford crystal ball drop. "I'm not worried about what I lost. I'm going to be looking to the future."
As the clock struck midnight Wednesday, a ton of confetti fluttered down on the revelers bundled up in fur hats, coats and sleeping bags. Fireworks burst atop the tower where the ball was lowered. Noisemakers screeched, partygoers kissed and cheers echoed through the corridors of midtown Manhattan.
Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, expected to be secretary of state in President-elect Barack Obama's administration, joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lower the ball atop 1 Times Square for the 60-second countdown to midnight.
The National Weather Service said the midnight temperature at Central Park, just blocks from Times Square, was 18 degrees and the 16 mph wind blowing through the urban canyons made the wind chill just 3 degrees.
The temperature had fallen a couple of degrees when city sanitation crews started sweeping up the confetti and other party trash Thursday morning. Last year, crews removed more than 40 tons of garbage.
While that cleanup was under way, thousands of people gathered in Pasadena, Calif., along the route of Thursday's Rose Parade.
This year's grand marshal was 82-year-old actress and recent "Dancing with the Stars" contestant Cloris Leachman. The parade featured 21 marching bands and 18 equestrian units along the 5 1/2-mile route.
"It's been a dream to come through here. I just love the flowers." said Gail Braun who traveled from her home in Pasadena, Md., to see the Rose Parade in the same-named Pasadena, Calif.
Thousands of other celebrants line the streets of Philadelphia for the annual Mummers Parade, which features about 15,000 people in elaborate costumes dancing and parading along a 2 1/2-mile route.
"Philadelphia is one of the few cities where New Year's Day is bigger than New Year's Eve," said resident Brian Castello, 48.
Many other New Year's Eve traditions around the country were in place, but the nation's economic troubles made many people less interested in giving 2008 an expensive send-off. Public celebrations were canceled in communities from Louisville, Ky., to Reno, Nev., and promoters in Miami Beach, Fla., reported slower ticket sales than expected for celebrity-studded parties that they say would have sold out in past years.
But New York's celebration didn't slow down. Five minutes before midnight, 1,000 balloons with the words "Joy," "Hope" and "2009" were released from rooftops in the area. The Waterford crystal-covered ball — 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds — was lowered as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Sam Tenorio and his family drove to New York from Orlando, Fla., so his teenage daughter Brianna could see the Jonas Brothers perform live in Times Square.
"The economy is what it is. It's going to turn around. You just have to be positive," Tenorio said. "That's what we're doing, otherwise we wouldn't be here. I think that's why most people are here tonight: optimism."
Some had waited hours in the cold penned up behind barricades in tight security.
Among them was 19-year-old Samantha Smith, who had traveled with her fiance and college friends from Florida. She wore a face mask and had stuffed hand warmers in her gloves. "I'm kind of comfortable because I have a ton of layers on," she said.
Some celebrations didn't go off as planned. Aspen, Colo., authorities evacuated a large section of downtown and canceled fireworks over Aspen Mountain after bomb threats and suspicious packages were found. The packages turned out to be bombs, police said Thursday. Wind and rough water in the harbor caused Baltimore officials to postpone a fireworks celebration. Reno, Nev., canceled its fireworks show for the first time since 2000.