World welcomes the New Year with fireworks and prayers

Sydney and Auckland are the first major world cities to celebrate the arrival of 2024.

Fireworks exploding around Big Ben and the London Eye in London to mark the arrival of 2024
Fireworks explode around the London Eye and Big Ben to mark the arrival of 2024 [Henry Nicholls/AFP]

Sydney and Auckland were the first major world cities to welcome the arrival of 2024.

Over a million revellers celebrated the New Year on Sunday night amid stunning fireworks displays, illuminating the skies over Australia’s Sydney Harbour and New Zealand’s tallest structure, the Sky Tower in Auckland.

Light rain that had persisted throughout the day in Auckland had cleared by midnight, and the countdown commenced against an illuminated digital display near the top of the 328-metre (1,076-foot) communications and observation tower.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbour Bridge as part of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia [Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image/AP]

As the clock struck midnight in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, a 12-minute fireworks display erupted around the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

More than one million people watched from the shore and boats in the harbour.

The small Pacific island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati had ushered in the New Year an hour earlier.

In Japan, temple bells rang out across the nation as people gathered at shrines and temples to welcome in the New Year.

At the Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, visitors were given free hot milk and corn soup as they stood in line to strike a big bell, and a pipe-organ concert was held before a majestic altar.

China celebrated the new calendar year relatively modestly, with fireworks banned in most major cities over safety and pollution concerns.

During his New Year address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.

In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, an air of enthusiasm prevailed as revellers congregated for a fireworks display at the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper. The celebration extended to concerts and various events held across the city.

New Years celebrations
People celebrate the New Year, in Taipei, Taiwan, January 1, 2024 [Ann Wang/Reuters]

In India, thousands of revellers from the financial hub of Mumbai flocked to a bustling promenade to watch the sunset over the Arabian Sea.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, fireworks raised apprehensions about the capital, which suffers from poor air quality, being shrouded in a toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.

In London, more than 100,000 revellers gathered along the banks of the River Thames to watch the city’s annual fireworks display. The 12-minute show lit up the London Eye and Big Ben. Tens of thousands also turned out for the fireworks in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

After standing in New York City’s Times Square for more than a dozen hours, thousands of revelers cheered in the New Year with the annual ceremony of a descending crystal-clad ball.

Many had arrived early in the morning for a spot in one of the barricaded pens set up by the New York Police Department, ahead of musical performances by Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J before the final countdown to midnight.

“This is my first time to celebrate the New Year in Times Square,” said Nadja Sjostrom, 44, who had traveled from Stockholm, Sweden, a few days earlier for the occasion and had been standing amid the giant illuminated billboards of Times Square since about 8 am.

End of a tense year

The New Year celebrations came against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Gaza, which has heightened tensions in some cities around the world, including Sydney, where more police than ever were deployed to oversee the fireworks displays.

The waterfront has been the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated in the colours of the Israeli flag after October 7.

Some 90,000 police and security officers were deployed around France, including along the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where large crowds took in a multidimensional light show projected onto the Arc de Triomphe showcasing the history of Paris and the sports that will feature in the 2024 Olympics.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis reflected on 2023 as a year defined by the hardships of war.

In his customary Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St Peter’s Square, he extended prayers for various populations, including “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people, and many others”.

In Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians. In an overnight televised message, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by beginning the new year with simplicity.

The Palestinians in Gaza say they have little hope that 2024 will bring much relief after nearly three months of Israel’s “genocidal” military campaign that has killed nearly 22,000 people.

The Arc de Triomphe illuminated in blue and gold during a New Year's Eve light show
Thousands gathered in Paris which will host the Olympics in 2024 [Aurelien Morissard/AP Photo]

In Rafah on Gaza’s border with Egypt, which has become the biggest focal point for Palestinians fleeing other parts of the enclave, people were more preoccupied on Sunday with trying to find shelter, food and water than with thinking about the New Year.

“In 2024 I wish to go back to the wreckage of my home, pitch a tent and live there,” said Abu Abdullah al-Agha, a middle- aged Palestinian man whose house in Khan Younis was destroyed and who lost a young niece and nephew in an Israeli air strike.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on his countrymen to not to lose sight of the future of their homeland amid the ongoing war in the country.

“We Ukrainians know better than anyone that a better tomorrow does not come by itself because we defend each of our tomorrows with our own hands,” he said in his video address on Sunday, in which his wife Olena also appeared alongside him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing an election in March, made only passing reference in his New Year address on Sunday to his war in Ukraine, hailing his soldiers as heroes but mostly emphasising unity and shared determination.

A woman wearing 2024 glasses bathed in pink light
A woman in Kuala Lumpur marks the arrival of the New Year. Although there were no official fireworks many people gathered in the city centre to celebrate [Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

End-of-year celebrations in Russia, which usually involve fireworks and a concert on Moscow’s Red Square, were cancelled, as they were last year.

After shelling in the centre of the Russian border city of Belgorod Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also cancelled their usual firework displays, including in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies