TORONTO - New Democrats are pinching themselves to be sure their orange revolution is real.

Party stalwarts have fought the good fight in so many other elections, only to be crushed by Liberal history and organization.

But all that changed in the breathtaking collapse of the Liberals and of the separatist vote in Quebec, which together propelled the NDP to official Opposition status.

"It's shocking. I never, ever would have thought I'd see this in my lifetime," said Patrick Casy, a Toronto program manager in his early 30s.

"I've worked hard on campaigns, and the thing was, it was only hope because in the back of your mind you were just fighting for your ideology or something you believed in.

"Even though you were driven by passion, you just knew in the back of your mind you'd never break through. I really can't believe."

On Monday night, the usual crowd of students, grey-haired ex-hippies in Che Guevara shirts and college professors in tweed coats milled about the celebration at the Metro Convention Centre. But the crowd of nearly 3,000 also included suits, worn by young, affluent professionals that the NDP craved but had never been able to woo.

They danced and sported white, green and orange feather moustaches, a tribute to Jack Layton whose personal popularity had brought them to the places they never thought possible.

"I'm looking forward to celebrating with you all night," Olivia Chow, Layton's wife and the re-elected MP from Trinity-Spadina.

"Let's party on!"

An elderly man with emphysema dragged his oxygen tank behind him and cradled a glass of wine in his other hand.

"I am so proud to be a New Democrat," he whispered before the sound system started blasting out a mix of 1960s music and Lady Gaga hits.

For diehard party members, Monday's vote was sweet vindication -- and as the results tumbled across the giant screens, they tried to act nonchalant.

"It was sort of in the air and you practically smell it," said Lucille St. Andre, a supporter for 20 years. "The air is just vibrating for me."

Casy said he thinks many old-time New Democrats and committed socialists will find it hard to adjust to the moderation needed when a party gets official Opposition status.

"For the party, it's a good change. But maybe for some of the people who've been around and came out of the 60's and some of those values, it might be a tough growing phase -- or goodbye phase," he said.

"I don't know where else they park their vote."