It started yesterday. Ice-skaters in the sculpture garden, souvenir hawkers downtown, jazz in the Martin Luther King Jr. library, thousands of people getting off planes and trains and buses and asking about inaugural party tickets, and taxis, and how does one get from here to there, and the gospel singer in the Kennedy Center leading her audience around the lobby in a "train to heaven" - inauguration week has begun.

Greeted by freezing temperatures and friendly if overworked information booth volunteers, Georgians, New Yorkers, Mississipians and hundreds of other Americans started arriving in their nation's inauguration.

They found soldiers breaking up the ice on Pennsylvania Avenue with jackhammers, some mix-ups in hotel rooms, tickets and confusion about transportation facilities,and traffic delays around the White House because of the parade bleachers - but most seemed to exude good cheer and high expectations.

Jaspar Neely, a black city councilman from Grenada, Miss., stood in the lobby of the Kennedy Center having his picture taken with some of the 55 friends who rode up on the bus with him to attend Jimmy Carter's inauguration. He was wearing three Carter buttons; one said: "Jimmy Carter Can Save America."

"I've never been to anything like this before," he said, "I expect it'll really be something to talk about for a while."

Hundreds milled around the Great Hall ofthe Commerce Department seeking to pick up their inaugural party and parade tickets. The phone rang there incessantly. One man from Georgia said loudly that Chip Carter, the President-elect's son, had personally assured him there would be a third party ticket waiting for him there. He'd been there for two hours and no one could find it.

"If Georgians were running this operation, this wouldn't be such a mess," he sniffed.

Another group, from Rochester, N.Y., got their tickets in five minutes with no problems and were preparing for an active stay in Washington.

"We're going to everything, we're going shopping, we're going to eat a lot - i hear there are great seafood restaurants here - and go to a lot of parties," said Louis LaDelfa, who works for the Department of Public Works in Rochester. "This is our thing, we love politics."

The cold weather was nothing to the delegation from Rochester, where temperatures are well below zero.

"This is like Miami Beach to us," said LaDelfa's colleague, Evelyn Barberio.

Meanwhile, A. Z. Snows was hawking inaugural license plates to the people waiting in line for tickets.

"Step right up and get your inaugural license plates," he said, "Help Jimmy Carter with his New Spirit and his New Commitment, help support the committee - they need your help" (The theme of the inauguration is "A New Spirit, A New Commitment, A New America.")

More than 400 people, some of them wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags, gathered around the base of the Washington Monument last night to watch a colorful display of fireworks.

Thousands of others watched the 35-minute display - described by some as far better and higher-shooting than last summer's Bicentennial spectacular - from the warmth of their cars parked around the Ellipse and the Mall area, and from vantage points in various buildings.

The frozen crowd that braved the chill to gather around the monument had an esprit de corps achieved only among groups of people who know what they're doing is totally irrational.

"Why am I here?" people kept asking each other. Great cheers sounded as the production opened with six sharp bursts. "Yea, Jimmy," several people yelled.

The opening was followed shortly with a stunning burst of silver stars that illuminated the glazed white expanses of the Mall as far as the Lincoln Memorial, freezing for an instance an eerie panorama of snow and silhouettes.

"Yea, Jimmy, give me a job," one fellow yelled.

Recorded martial music was played over a loudspeaker and several people in the crowd marched in step with it, probably to keep their feet from freezing.

About 150 uniformed Army engineers were called in to chop up ("deice") ice along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, armed with shovels and jackhammers, according to military officials. They also attacked the Capitol plaza where the swearing-in ceremonies are to be held before an audience of some 117,00o.

About 300 people showed up for the Marshall Hawkins Federal Jazz Commission at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, and a standing-room-only crowd listened to poet Richard Eberhart at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Tempel Lippizzan Stallions were supposed to perform on the Ellipse south of the White House, but had to cancel because of the ice. Two of the horses were rumored to have a case of the sniffles, as well, said a person in the information booth.

About 500 persons gathered in the Atrium Room atop the Kennedy Center last night for a reception sponsored by the D.C. State Democratic Committee for Democratic state chairmen and vice chairmen. Mayor Walter E. Washington welcomed the crowd, urging them to "think warm."

D.C. City Council Chairman Pro Tempore Willie J. Hardy used the occasion to pitch for support from those present to expand the limited home rule that the District was granted in 1974 and to "urge your representatives to give us total home rule during this administration."

"Don't forget," Mrs. Hardt (D-seven) said, "we want the same freedom that everybody else has."

The inside events attracted more crowds yesterday than the outside ones. The District of Columbia Tourist Board set up an information tent with free coffee and donuts opposite the District Building, but as of midday had few visitors.

"Most people want to know about party tickets," a volunteer said.

The crowds visible above ground also ventured underground in record numbers to use the city's Metro subway system. Metro officials said last night that 27.186 persons rode the subway yesterday.Surpassing the previous record number of 25.434 riders that was set on Dec. 17.

It was difficult to determine how many of the partakers of free events and transportation were visitors and how many were area residents taking advantage of the inaugural events.

At Union Station, where free bus service to local hotels was underway, there appeared to be few takers - except for a local lawyer who sat alone in one bus, finding it a convenient way to travel to his Crystal City home.

The ever-changing crowd that sat on the carpeted steps of the Kennedy Center's loobies averaged over 300 people. They watched - at different times - a children's show, the gospel singer, Japanese dancers, The Empire Brass Quintet, Austrian dancers. American Indian dancers and a mime in clown make-up.

At National Airport, arriving passengers were given maps showing wher all the McDonald Restaurants are located in Washington, schedules of inaugural events, and various religious tracts.

The visitors arriving for this "people's inaugural" seem to include a variety of persons. Some, like the Rochester group, are veteran politicians who were invited not so much for their work for Carter but for their involvement in the local Democratic Party. Others started their political life by working for Carter.

Dr. E. L. Talaty, a chemistry professor from Wichita, Kan., said he "wore out a pair of shoes going door-to-door for Jimmy Carter. I registered 400 voters. I wouldn't miss this for anything."

Then there was Mike and Doris Pooser from Arcadia. Fla. Pooser is the postmaster there, but neither he nor his wife is active in politics. "We're nobodies," he said.

They got an invitation to come to the inauguration, so they came, although the only apparent reason they received one of the 300,000 souvenir invitations is that they stopped in Plains, Ga., in early June and donated $2 to the campaign.

"That was before it became a tourist trap," Mrs. Pooser said. "You could still get up to the house. We saw Amt. We talked to the family. We took pictures of the depot. It was fantastic."

"It's just so exciting to be here," she continued. "We're from the country and I enjoy these things more than city people do."

As of mid-day, 2,000 people had checked into the Washington Hilton alone, and another 500 were expected, according to assistant manager Barbara Shea. The scene was repeated all over town, with the inevitable mistakes in reservations causing some bad tempers.

At the Ambassador Hotel, where an inaugural group from Plains, Gla., is scheduled to stay, the heating system was on the blink. Fred Recio, the hotel's sales manager, said heat in the hotel was turned off again yesterday because of a water pipe rupture.

"We are trying to solve the problems the best way we can," Recio said.

Most hotel rooms are solidly booked and have been for weeks. Tickets to inaugural parties, which one must be invited to buy , are also gone, even though the inaugural committee added a seventh party at the last minute to help absorb an unexpected overflow.

Last night the city was preparing for parties all over town. The Maryland Inaugural Committee was expecting thousands at the National Visitor Center, and an ethnic folk dance was scheduled to take place there soon after. Playboy magazine was having a bash at the Madison Hotel, some Ford staffers at a local restaurant, and Carter's sons were scheduled to go to a concert at the Cellar Door.

That's nothing compared to the social schedule for today and tonight - at least 30 receptions and dinners given by senators, state societies, and other organizations.

And there are some unusual visitors expected. Amy Carter's nurse from her father's gubernatorial days is being released from prison in the company of two members of Atlanta's Junior League to attend the inauguration, according to a wire service report.

Mary Fitzpatrick, 32, who is serving a life sentence for murder, has an "excellent" record, said the director of the Atlanta Women's Work Release Center who gave permission for Fitzpatrick to be released for 3 1/2 days. Fitzpatrick was a prison trusty who served in the governor's mansion while Carter was governor.

Also contributing to this article were Washington Post staff writers Stephen J. Lynton, Bill Peterson and Juan Williams.