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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press photos Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbor during New Year's Eve celebrations early today. An estimated 1 million people gathered to watch the display.

  • Performers take selfies at the end of a countdown to the new year event in Beijing. Revelers had to deal with below freezing temperatures.

  • Confetti rains down on revelers at the Eastwood Shopping Mall as Filipinos welcome the New Year Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. Filipinos welcome the New Year with the loudest noise possible including setting off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia's most violent celebrations. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Tuesday, January 01, 2019 1:00 am

World celebrates New Year's

Big Ben, coffins, fireworks used to observe holiday

Associated Press

Fireworks, concerts, spiritual services and political addresses abounded to mark the transition to 2019 as revelers around the globe bid farewell Monday to a year filled with challenges to many of the world's most basic institutions, including politics, trade, alliances and religion.

A look at how people are ushering in 2019:

United Arab Emirates

Fireworks crackled at Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, as hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered downtown to watch the spectacular display. The fireworks replace last year's somewhat anticlimactic LED light show that ran down the facade of the 2,716-foot tower.

Cafés and restaurants with a view of the Burj Khalifa charge a premium for their locale on New Year's Eve. Casual sandwich chain Pret a Manger, for example, charges $817 for a table of four. That price gets you hot and cold drinks and some canapes. For burgers near the action, fast-food chain Five Guys charged $408 per person for unlimited burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes and soda.

Vatican City

Pope Francis has rounded out the most problematic year of his papacy by presiding over a vespers service and praying before the Vatican's giant sand sculpture Nativity scene.

During his homily Monday, Francis lamented how many people spent 2018 living on the edge of dignity, homeless or forced into modern forms of slavery. Francis noted that Rome alone counts some 10,000 homeless and said: “During the winter their situation is particularly hard.”

Accompanied by his chief alms-giver, Francis then walked out into St. Peter's Square, where he greeted pilgrims and prayed before the Nativity scene, carved out of 720 tons of packed sand.

Thailand

While many celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais traveled to Takien Temple in a suburb of Bangkok to lie inside coffins for traditional funeral rituals.

Participants believe the ceremony – symbolizing death and rebirth – helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the new year. They held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.

Philippines

Dozens of people across the Philippines were injured as they set off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia's most violent celebrations despite a government scare campaign and threats of arrests.

The notorious tradition, worsened by celebratory gunfire that turned deadly, stems from a Chinese-influenced belief that noise drives away evil and misfortune.

China

New Year's Eve isn't celebrated widely in mainland China, where the lunar New Year in February is a more important holiday, but countdown events were held in major cities, and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.

Outdoor revelers in Beijing had to brave temperatures well below freezing. Additional police were deployed in parts of Shanghai, where a New Year's Eve stampede in 2014 killed 36 people.

In Hong Kong, festive lights on skyscrapers provided the backdrop for a fireworks, music and light show over Victoria Harbor on a chilly evening.

Kiribati

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was the first in the world to welcome the new year, greeting 2019 with muted celebrations after spending 2018 on the front line of the battle against climate change.

Kiribati is made up of low-lying atolls along the equator which intersect three time zones, the first of which sees the new year 14 hours before midnight in London.

Former President Anote Tong said the only future for Kiribati may be mass migration.

The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.

Australia

An estimated 1 million people crowded Sydney Harbor as Australia's largest city rang in the new year with a spectacular, soul-tinged fireworks celebration.

One of the most complex displays in Australia's history included gold, purple and silver fireworks pulsating to the tune of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” made famous by Aretha Franklin, who died in August. The show used 8.5 tons of fireworks and featured more than 100,000 pyrotechnic effects.

Earlier, a thunderstorm drenched tens of thousands of people as they gathered for the traditional display, creating a show of its own with dozens of lightning strikes.

South Korea

Thousands of South Koreans filled the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall. Dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight included famous surgeon Lee Guk-jong, who successfully operated on a North Korean soldier who escaped to South Korea in 2017 in a hail of bullets fired by his comrades.

A “peace bell” was tolled at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.

Paris

Parisians and tourists gathered on the Champs-Elysees to celebrate New Year's Eve under heavy security. Anti-government protesters from the “yellow vest” movement have issued calls on social media for “festive” demonstrations on the famous avenue.

Paris police set up a security perimeter in the area, with bag searches, a ban on alcohol and traffic restrictions.

The Interior Ministry said Sunday that the heavy security measures are needed because of a “high terrorist threat” as well as concerns about “non-declared protests.”

President Emmanuel Macron gave his traditional New Year address to briefly lay out his priorities for 2019, as some protesters angry over high taxes and his pro-business policies plan to continue their demonstrations in coming weeks.

London

Britons ushered in the new year with the familiar chimes of Big Ben, even though the world famous clock has been disconnected more than a year because of a conservation project.

Parliament announced last week that the clocks' massive bell would be sounded to mark the new year with the help of a specially built electric mechanism to power the clock's hammer, which weighs about 440 pounds. The clock mechanism, which has kept time since 1859, has been dismantled as part of the renovation work.