Australian revelers gather to be among the first to celebrate New Year’s Eve

By Rohan Sullivan, AP
Thursday, December 31, 2009

World readies for New Year’s parties

SYDNEY — The first of an expected 1.5 million New Year’s revelers pitched tents and opened picnic baskets in Sydney on Thursday to get one of the world’s biggest parties started — bidding farewell to a tough year and welcoming a new decade.

The annual fireworks extravaganza over the city’s landmark harbor bridge and opera house are the centerpiece of Australia’s celebrations, and generate some of the most striking images from a night of revelry across the globe.

Smaller fireworks displays and partying are planned across Australia and the South Pacific, the first region to greet each new day because of its proximity to the International Date Line.

In New Zealand, dance parties, bands and fireworks were planned in the main cities, and live entertainment in many holiday spots, including the southern tourist spot of Queenstown. In the capital, Wellington, celebrations will include a display by world unicycle games competitors.

Asia will be partying, too, though probably not as hard as most of Europe and the Americas. The world’s most populous nation, 1.3-billion-strong China, uses a different calendar that will mark the new year in February. Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also use a different calendar.

Pyrotechnics displays were planned to illuminate Hong Kong’s crowded skyline, high-glitz parties were planned in Singapore and thousands were expected to gather at Indonesia’s national monument in the capital, Jakarta, for a fireworks show.

Millions of Japanese will welcome the new year by flocking to shrines to pray for good fortune in 2010.

In Tokyo, the Sensoji temple was draped with banners greeting the new year in preparation for traditional new year’s day ceremonies when thousands of people come to pray for good fortune. Shoppers mobbed a city, stocking up on seafood and other items.

The celebrations will mark the end of a year many may be glad to put behind them.

The global financial crisis bit hard in 2009, sending economies around the world tumbling into recession and causing millions to lose their jobs and house foreclosures to rise. Signs of recovery emerged late in the year, giving hope that 2010 would bring better times.

In Sydney, crowds defied gray skies and drizzling rain in the middle of summer to line parks and public places along the harbor foreshore. High-rise apartments with water views prepared for toney parties.

Revelers were asked to wear something blue, the color chosen to match the fireworks show’s theme: Awaken the Spirit.

“Sydney has an amazing spirit — soulful, sexy and sophisticated and we want to celebrate and awaken her spirit for the new year ahead,” artistic director Rhoda Roberts said.

In other cities such as Melbourne and Adelaide, revelers sweltered in 100 F-degree heat (38 C-degree heat).

Thousands of police were deploying across Australia to guard against alcohol-fueled misbehavior, with commanders warning that troublemakers should stay home or face jail.

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