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Welcome, 2002!

People across the United States counted down to 2002 Monday night, but the tragic events that have marked the last year brought a somber sentiment to usual festivities.

Organizers of the New Year's Eve celebration in New York's Times Square made several changes to the annual celebration to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, including a bell-ringing ceremony as the traditional crystal ball ascends to the top of its pole.

Despite the security precautions and the freezing weather, some intrepid revelers had already staked out space in Times Square by Monday morning. And while the crowd that watched the ball finally drop and usher in 2002 was a little smaller than last year, it was fully enthusiastic, and in many cases, overcome with emotion by a year touched with tragedy.

Revelers thronged the streets of major world cities from Bangkok to Paris, welcoming a New Year they hope will bring greater security and an end to 2001's economic woes.

In Europe, where cold weather left many late-night party goers shivering, 12 countries used midnight to adopt the euro as their common currency, with lavish public ceremonies in cities such as Brussels and Frankfurt.

Lavish outdoor ceremonies, including fireworks and classical music, were held in cities such as Brussels and Frankfurt to mark the first time since the Roman Empire when western Europe will use the same currency.

In Australia, an estimated 1 million revelers ignored a shroud of acrid smoke over Sydney to throng the harbor for a New Year's fireworks celebration — billed as one of the world's largest pyrotechnic displays.

Back in the U.S., Javier Romero, 21, traveled from Connecticut to meet friends who grabbed a spot at 3 a.m. in Midtown Manhattan. He said participating in the New Year's celebration is part of getting back to normal.

"It's kind of my part of saying I'm not afraid," he said.

The Waterford crystal ball that dropped in Times Square memorialized the victims of the attacks. The 504 triangular panels that cover the 1,070-pound ball are engraved with the names of each police precinct, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unit, firehouse, airline and nation that suffered losses Sept. 11.

Cesar Alvarez, 25, of Queens, secured his location at 44th Street and Broadway on Sunday evening and was sitting in a folding chair wrapped in a 6-by-10 foot American flag trying to keep warm.

"It's going to be a nice party," said Alvarez, who was attending his fifth Times Square celebration.

"You can't be afraid," he added. "You've got to keep on going on with your life. Have fun."

But many revelers across the country did it without the usual fanfare.

Christine Sobolak of Chicago cooked dinner with her boyfriend instead of attending her usual parties.

"Spending $150-plus on one night feels somehow inappropriate this year," the 23-year-old said.

Karen Blinkhorn of Ocala, Fla., invited other famlies with children to her home.

While some restaurants and hotels had to run last-minute marketing blitzes to fill tables and rooms, more untraditional locales - among them, churches - are getting swamped with calls about New Year's Eve events.

The Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church in suburban Philadelphia, for example, is hosting its first-ever New Year's Eve party.

Caterers and retailers who specialize in home party supplies are noticing the trend toward homegrown gatherings.

Sal Perisano, CEO of Boston-based iParty Corp., says he's seen a double-digit increase in sales for New Year's party paraphernalia, compared with the same period in 2000. Top sellers include red-white-and-blue party hats and noisemakers, as well as buffet trays and devices used to keep dishes heated.

Some larger celebrations - like Denver's citywide party - have been canceled because of concerns over safety and security costs.

Security was tight for the Times Square event, reflecting the new reality in the wake of the terrorist assault in lower Manhattan, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

New York City Police with handheld metal detectors checked pedestrians as they entered the area through checkpoints.

Large bags were banned, and officers inspected other items. Thousands of police - in uniform, in plainclothes, on rooftops and in helicopters - patroled the area.

Along with terrorism fears, lack of money or volunteers prompted about 20 of 200 communities nationwide - from St. Louis to Staten Island - to shelve plans for First Night events, a nonalcoholic, arts-oriented celebration.

On the other side of the globe in Afghanistan, U.S. troops will mark the turning of 2002 quietly and at their posts.

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