EMBRACE, they said, and so we did, canoodling on city streets and fumbling by the foreshore as the clock ticked over. Lovers groped under the fickle glint of fireworks. Family members hugged in unfamiliar but welcome public displays of affection.
In the land of the handshake we held each other, for a moment at least, until it became awkward and we stopped. By then it was 2013 and it didn't matter anyway.
Sydney lights the sky for 2013
A spectacular fireworks display lights the night sky over Sydney Harbor to bring in the year 2013.
Perhaps 1.5 million people massed about Sydney Harbour to farewell a year that was not that bad, all things considered.
Twelve months ago we worried for the parlous state of federal politics and the fate of asylum seekers, that the world economy would tank and the United States topple off the fiscal cliff. We worry still. But then the world didn't end, so gather ye rosebuds.
In the year past, scientists discovered the ''God particle'' and landed a rover on Mars. A man with no legs ran the Olympic 400 metres, while another fell from space. It was absurd and wonderful. ''Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are,'' said Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, who stepped into the void 39 kilometres above the Earth.
New Year's Eve on Sydney Harbour was no less grand for its proximity. Fireworks exploded from barges and seven city buildings, shooting 25,000 surreal comets into the sky. Flaming koalas, birds and, bizarrely, octopi, sparkled over the water.
On the Harbour Bridge a giant pair of disembodied lips wearing red lipstick counted down the seconds to midnight. Willy Wonka could not have been more weird.
Those lips belonged to ''creative ambassador'' Kylie Minogue, who apparently inspired the evening's ''embrace'' theme and the official colours of magenta, yellow, purple and red.
She called on Australians to embrace new ideas or concepts, or to simply hug each other. As themes go, it was not so ambitious as previous tributes to eternity, peace and time.
Still the occasion left many pondering the big questions: Will the US economy survive? Will there be peace in the Middle East? What colour is magenta anyway?
''Let's start 2013 with a resolution to embrace a renewed national spirit of unity and confidence,'' the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said. Exactly 12 months ago pundits predicted her imminent demise. Twenty-four months ago sports headlines decried how Australia's new Test captain Michael Clarke had ''lost a nation''. Now he's Clarke Kent. Time makes fools of us all.
Bells toll as midnight strikes in Christian Marclay's 24-hour video work, The Clock, which played at the MCA in 2012. A zombie woman pops out of a grandfather clock and Orson Welles is impaled on a sword by a giant clockwork soldier.
On Sydney Harbour, people on jet-skis mucked about with fireworks spouting out their backs - grateful, perhaps, the decision to float a helipad on the water has been put on hold. It was a curious rather than awe-inspiring sight, kind of like the year that has been.
Already, it is the morning after the night before. But promises have been made. On the Harbour Bridge, text messages were projected on the pylons relaying the wishes and dreams of people from Sydney, Seoul, Phillip Island, Cairns and beyond.
''I love you David Huynh. I can't W8 2B UR Wife XOX,'' wrote Monique Woodleigh. More than a few laid bare their hearts before thousands. ''Isa do you want to marry me,'' asked Steven Winter, and for his sake we hope she did.
People gathered at alcohol-free vantage points around the harbour, accepting barricades and bag searches with mostly good humour. Some families paid $125 for the privilege of using public space such as Bradleys Head, which is a bit rich really.
The city was too far for some, who instead watched fireworks in Liverpool, Manly, Coogee, Brighton-le-Sands and Mildura.
Celebrating their honeymoon in a two-person tent on Cockatoo Island were 20-something Brits Neil and Emily Watson, locked in the embrace of the young-and-in-love.
At Circular Quay, where a ''Healthy Bites'' food van was doing a brisk trade in deep fried chicken, Kiama couple Glen and Pat Thornton, both 61, sat and held each other while watching fireworks light up the night sky from a park bench.
They met in their mid-teens at a cousin's engagement party in Lidcombe and have been married 41 years. Their secret? ''Communication, I think, and tolerance,'' he said. ''Just keep loving one another,'' she said.
Now that's a sentiment worth embracing in 2013.