Hundreds of thousands of revelers gathered in chilly weather Thursday into usher in the new decade and say goodbye to 10 years marred by war, recession, terrorism and threats of environmental catastrophe.
Fireworks were set off at about 6 p.m. and the gigantic ball was lowered into place in preparation for midnight. Many people wore conical party hats and 2010 glasses that blinked colorfully, and some were jumping up and down to keep warm — the National Weather Service said the temperature will be in the low 30s and forecast snow for around midnight.
Cell phones were brought out to document the last few hours of a decade many wanted to leave behind.
Gail Guay of Raymond, N.H., came to New Hampshire 2010" printed on it.with two friends to celebrate her 50th birthday. The trio carried a huge white hotel towel with "Happy New Year
Reflecting on the past decade when she had buried her mother, Guay had this advice: "Don't look back."
Her friend Doreen O'Brien, 48, of Nashua, N.H., said that the crowd in Times Square seemed to be feeling positive on the cusp of a new decade. "People are in a great mood; it's very friendly. It's like New York has slowed down."
But a sense of starting fresh remains elusive for many, who wonder what sort of legacy will begin on Jan. 1, 2010.
"Nothing seems to be going well," said John O'Donnell of Hazelton, Pa. "People are losing their lives overseas, people are unemployed. It doesn't seem like it's about to end soon."
He said he hoped that the U.S. would get out of its "slump" in the next decade.
"The meaning of the new decade is going to be diminished by the hangover of the last decade," says Bob Batchelor, professor of mass communications at Kent State University and author of "The 2000s," published before the decade was even done. "That makes it tough to be as optimistic as Americans usually are."
Celebrations are taking many forms, with concerts, fireworks, and the timed drop of favorite local symbols.
In the Tennessee cities of Memphis and Nashville, organizers plan to drop a 10-foot red guitar. In Atlanta, an 800-pound fiberglass peach is to take a 138-foot plunge. In North Carolina, , near the Georgia border, will have its annual opossum drop, Mount Olive will drop a 3-foot glowing pickle, and the capital city of Raleigh will lower a giant acorn. In Eastport, Maine, an 8-foot wooden sardine is dropped. And in Times Square, an 11,875-pound ball covered with more than 32,000 bulbs is in place to be lowered at midnight.
In Boston, more than 1,000 artists and performers are participating in the "First Night" celebrations. Artists plan to display six ice sculptures, including a replica of one of the Boston Museum of Fine Art's 4,000-year-old Egyptian sculptures.
And in Chicago, the city's Transit Authority is offering rides for a penny to help residents and visitors get in place for fireworks displays planned during the evening and at midnight.
Las Vegas prepared to welcome some 315,000 revelers with fireworks from casino rooftops, a traffic-free Las Vegas Strip and toasts at nightclubs from celebrities including actress Eva Longoria and rapper 50 Cent.
And around the world, from fireworks in Sydney to balloons sent aloft in Tokyo, revelers at least temporarily shelved worries about the future to bid farewell to the first decade of the 21st century.
In Times Square, organizers planned to mix about 10,000 handwritten wishes into the confetti to be dropped over the crowds. They include appeals for the safe return of troops fighting overseas, continued employment and a cure for diabetes.
The hundreds of thousands of revelers in New York City brought out heightened police security, displayed a day earlier when police evacuated several blocks around Times Square to investigate a parked van without license plates. Only clothing and clothes racks were found inside.
Police and other officials planned sweeps to detect traces of radiation or biological agents in the area, while a command center was to be staffed by FBI, and regional police.
Thousands of officers were scattered around Times Square, some heavily armed, and revelers were banned from carrying backpacks and open bottles.