The world celebrates the dawn of a New Year. Hello 2013, Goodbye 2012.
The Maya Long Count calendar reads '18.104.22.168.0' ('thirteen b'aktun') for the first time in 5,125 years, believed by some to mark the end of civilisation. Our correspondents report on preparations for the apocalypse around the world, which turned out to be unnecessary, and speculate about how and when the Earth will meet its inevitable doom.
The End of the world didn't happen
History is littered with doomsdays that have come and gone. The end of civilization seems to hold a morbid fascination for people, through a combination of grim excitement over how the end might come, and more individual thoughts of our own extinction.
The Mayans did not predict anything bad, their calendar simply ran out. Nothing more, nothing less.
The doomsday myth will surely weave itself into the new year's celebration events for 2013.
2013 Celebration Hilights
Sydney's skyline erupted with tonnes of exploding fireworks in the first major celebration of 2013, extravagant displays lit up Hong Kong and Beijing, and increasingly democratic Burma, also known as Myanmar, joined the party for the first time in almost five decades.
Asia welcomed the New Year on a grand scale, partying with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economies of Europe, where the party was expected to be a bit more subdued.
Celebrations were planned around the world, culminating in the U.S. with the crystal ball drop in New York City's Times Square. One million people are expected to cram into the area for the countdown.
Global celebrations began Monday in Sydney, where the balmy summer night was split by seven tonnes of fireworks fired from roof tops and barges, many cascading from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in a $6.9 million US pyrotechnic extravaganza billed by organizers as the world's largest. About 1.5 million there gathered to ring in the New Year.
The crowds were undiminished by Australian government warnings that the Washington deadlock on the U.S. debt crisis was partly to blame for a slowing Australian economy.
New Yorker Mathieu Herman said he had flown to Australia specifically for the New Year celebrations on the harbour.
"I saw it last year on TV and it looked fabulous. I said to myself it's something I've just got to do," Herman said.
The South Pacific nation is one of the first to greet each New Year because of its proximity to the International Date Line.
In Asia, also among the first countries to see 2013, Burma had a public countdown for the first time.
In a field in Burma's largest city, Yangon, about 90,000 people experienced the country's first public New Year countdown, after almost five decades under military regimes that discouraged or banned big public gatherings.
"This is very exciting and also our first experience in celebrating the New Year at a big countdown gathering. We feel like we are in a different world," said Yu Thawda, a university student who came with three of her friends.
In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people lined the Victoria Harbour to view this year's $1.6-million US fireworks display billed by organizers as the biggest ever in the southern Chinese city.
The buoyant economies of the Asia-Pacific are prepared to party with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economies of Europe.
Other countries saying goobye to 2012
Celebrations were planned around the world, with one million people expected to fill Times Square in New York City to watch the drop of a Waterford crystal-studded ball.
In Canada, annual outdoor festivities will feature musical and other acts at popular partying locations such as:
- Toronto's downtown Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall.
- Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls, Ont.
- Vancouver's Robson Square.
- Saint John's Market Square.
- Montreal's Place Jacques-Cartier.
One day after dancing in the snow to celebrate the first anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's ascension to supreme commander, North Koreans were preparing to mark the arrival of the new year, marked as "Juche 102" on North Korean calendars. Juche means self-reliance, the North Korean ideology of independence promoted by national founder Kim Il Sung, who was born 102 years ago. His grandson now rules North Korea.
In New Delhi, the festive mood was marred by the death Saturday of a young rape victim.
Hotels, clubs and residents' associations in the Indian capital decided to cancel planned festivities and asked people to light candles to express their solidarity with the victim whose plight sparked public rallies for women's safety.
"Let there be no New Year celebrations across the country. It will be a major tribute to the departed soul," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders, an umbrella group of operators of shops and businesses across the country.
Meanwhile, Jakarta planned a huge street party befitting Indonesia's powering economy.
The event centred on a seven-kilometre main thoroughfare closed to all traffic from nightfall until after midnight. Workers erected 16 large stages along the normally car-clogged, eight-lane highway through the heart of the city. Indonesia's booming economy is a rare bright spot amid global gloom and is bringing prosperity — or the hope of it — to Indonesians.
Spirits in the capital have been further raised by the election of a new, populist governor who is pledging to tackle the city's massive infrastructure problems.
Firecrackers a worry in Philippines
Despite a sombre mood in the Philippines due to devastation from a recent typhoon, a key problem for authorities remained how to prevent revellers from setting off huge illegal firecrackers, including some nicknamed "Goodbye Philippines" and "Bin Laden," that maim and injure hundreds of Filipinos each year, including many children.
A government scare tactic involving doctors displaying brutal-looking scalpels used for amputations for firecracker victims has not fully worked in the past so health officials came up with a novel idea: Go Gangnam style.
A government health official, Eric Tayag, donned the splashy outfit of South Korean star PSY and danced to his YouTube hit Gangnam Style video while preaching against the use of illegal firecrackers on TV, in schools and in public arenas.
"The campaign has become viral," Tayag said. "We've asked kids and adults to stay away from big firecrackers and just dance the Gangnam and they're doing it."
Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo predicted 2013 would be less turbulent than 2012 because the Chinese New Year in February will usher in the year of the snake, bringing an end to the year of the dragon, which was associated with water. Water is one of the five elements in feng shui theory, the Chinese practice of arranging objects and choosing dates to improve luck.
"Water is fear. So that's why we have had so much turbulence especially in the winter months," such as doomsday prophecies, school shootings and concerns about the fiscal cliff, said Lo.
"But the good news is that the coming year of the snake is the first time that fire has come back since 2007. Fire actually is the opposite to water, fire is happiness. So therefore the year of the snake is a much more optimistic year. So you can see signs of economic recovery now," he added.
"The positive thing is that people are very optimistic, therefore it will have a very strong drive on the economic recovery. We expect the stock market will do well, the property market will do well," Lo said.
Economic concerns affect Europe
In austerity-hit Europe, the mood was restrained but hopeful.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year message warned her country to prepare for difficult economic times ahead. The Cypriot capital, Nicosia, decided to cancel its New Year celebrations in light of the economic crisis. Nicosia said the $21,000 saved from the cancelled event will be given to some 320 needy schoolchildren.
But Scotland's Edinburgh, which traditionally hosts one of the biggest New Year's Eve parties in Europe, remains in good spirits. Organizers say some 75,000 people are expected for the Scottish capital's Hogmanay, or year-end, celebrations.
In Athens, fireworks over the ancient Acropolis will usher in 2013, projected to be a sixth straight year of recession amid the country's worst economic crisis since World War II.
Still, In his televised New Year's Eve message, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised Greeks that the worst of the crisis is past, and declared 2013 a "year of hope" that will see the beginning of the country's rebirth.
As The World Turns, The New Year Celebrations Errupt
Hong Kong's harbour dazzles for most of the year, but on December 31 it really glows. This year, for the first time, the city's midnight fireworks display will journey across town, beginning at the sea and moving along Victoria Harbour to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.
The best places to view the action? The Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza, the promenade from the Avenue of Stars to Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the promenade at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai and the area near Central Pier. Come back in February to witness the whole spectacle again as the city prepares to ring in the Chinese New Year (February 10).
More than one million people brave sub-zero temperatures to be part of New York's ball drop celebrations on New Year's Eve, with live entertainment this year provided by the likes of Taylor Swift, Psy and the Neon Trees.
As it has done for the past 105 years, the ball -- some 3.6 meters in diameter, studded with 2,688 Waterford crystals and lit by 32,256 LEDs -- descends from the flagpole atop One Times Square, dropping 21 meters in 60 seconds.
At the stroke of midnight, a blizzard of colourful confetti is released from the rooftops and party-goers are treated to renditions of Auld Lang Syne and Frank Sinatra's New York, New York.
Berliners warm up on New Year's Eve with the annual Berliner Silvesterlauf: a fancy dress running race that sees participants flipping pancakes along the way. In the evening, party gear replaces gorilla suits as the city descends on the Brandenburg Gate for one of the world's largest open-air celebrations.
This year, a stage at Pariser Platz will host international and local musicians, while DJs entertain crowds along the city's "Party Mile": a two kilometre strip of dance-floors, stages and bars behind the Brandenburg.
As midnight approaches, a laser and light show brightens the sky, with more than 2,000 fireworks and a New York-style ball drop as the clock strikes 12.
It's been a big year for London, having hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. And the English capital intends to see out 2012 with more pomp and ceremony.
Secure a riverside perch, book a Thames cruise or even better, secure a spot at the London Sky Bar -- the views from here are unmatched -- and count down to the annual fireworks display launched from the foot of the 135-meter-tall London Eye Ferris wheel.
With 2013 in full swing, hit the streets for the New Year's Day parade, which will see more than 10,000 musicians, dancers and acrobats take over the town for the 2013 event, themed "Hats Off To London -- Celebration Capital of the World."
Edinburgh is cast aglow at its annual New Year's Eve (Hogmanay) festivities, which kick off on December 30 with a torchlight procession involving more than 25,000 locals. The parade is led by Shetland's Up Helly Aa vikings, with their pipes and drums, and culminates atop Calton Hill with a fireworks display.
There's more to come on New Year's Eve, when an expected 80,000 people will take to the streets to sing Auld Lang Syne -- apparently the biggest and loudest rendition of the song in the world -- and party; this year, entertainment comes courtesy of British bands the Maccabees and the OK Social Club, while Simple Minds will headline at the city's Concert in the Gardens.
If there's a famous Australian who knows how to have a good time, it's Kylie Minogue. And this year, the pint-sized pop star is the creative ambassador for Sydney's New Year's Eve extravaganza. Prepare to party.
The entertainment launches early in the day with a series of aerial acrobatic shows, followed by a traditional indigenous cleansing ceremony: smoke flows across the harbour from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vessels, removing the water of negative spirits.
There's an early fireworks show for families and a flotilla of boats is transformed with waves of color and light, but the real draw is the midnight fireworks show on Sydney Harbour Bridge. This year's theme is a guarded secret, although according to organizers it will include "exciting new effects."
Samoa went back to the future last year when it skipped a full day, changed sides of the International Date Line and went from being the last country to the first to see in the New Year. If you're visiting the island nation on December 31 this year you can look forward to events that are less about fireworks and fanfare and more about family.
After visiting elders, Samoans traditionally welcome January 1 with song and prayer services at large, and loud, choral exhibitions. You won't go hungry -- village banquets are very generous -- or thirsty for that matter, with all festivities beginning and ending with a kava ceremony. Don't forget your ukulele.
In Kyoto, New Year's Eve revellers are encouraged to make some noise. Crowds flock to the city's shrines, where stalls sell omikuji (fortune notes) and taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes with green tea, chocolate or red bean fillings).
As the clock ticks toward 2013, temples across town ring large bronze bells 108 times, a Buddhist tradition said to rid humans of earthly desires.
The Yasaka Shrine and Chion-in Temple are particularly busy on December 31 -- the latter features a bell that weighs more than 70 tons and takes a team of 17 monks to strike it, crying out "Ee hitotsu" (One more!) and "Sōre" (Now!) each time they make contact.
The Taiwanese capital thinks big when it comes to New Year's Eve, transforming the 509-meter-high Taipei 101 tower into a fireworks frenzy with a 188-second show themed, "Amazing Moment, Amazing Taipei."
Six of the country's favourite performers, one for each hour of the official countdown, will entertain crowds at ground level.
If you can't secure a spot at Rainbow Riverside Park or Elephant Mountain, head to Miramar Entertainment Park, where an equally dazzling display will fill the night sky. After the big bangs subside, locals make their way to nearby hot-spring resorts for a romantic soak -- the perfect start to 2013.
Never shy of making a grandiose statement, Dubai sees in the New Year with a bang -- literally. The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is the launching pad for a multi million-dollar pyrotechnics display (also claiming to be the largest of its kind in the world), which sees choreographed fireworks cascading down the 828-meter-tall skyscraper to the tune of Arabic and world music notes.
The fun continues on the beach at the Atlantis, The Palm resort where the annual Sandance festival sees headlining acts Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora, Roger Sanchez and Paul Van Dyk entertain revelers into the early hours of 2013, backdropped by more fireworks, of course.