A New Reckoning

Posted By BrokenClaw on December 1, 1999

We’ve all heard the discussions. Does the millennium end on December 31, 1999, or does it end on December 31, 2000? If the first year was Year 1, then the first decade ended at the end of Year 10, then the first century ended at the end of Year 100, then the first millennium ended at the end of Year 1000. Therefore, the second millennium must end at the end of Year 2000, not at the end of Year 1999.

This seeming contradiction arises from the fact that the Julian calendar started with Year 1 A.D. The year before that is designated Year 1 B.C. There was no Year 0, which complicates arithmetic calculations of time.

Incidentally, the abbreviations A.D. (Anno Domini) and B.C. (Before Christ) have been replaced in politically correct usage with CE and BCE. These new abbreviations originally referred to the term Christian Era, trying to dissociate their meaning from the actual person of Christ. Now the abbreviations refer to the Common Era, which dissociates their meaning from the entire European Christian tradition. Nonetheless, the years’ numbers are the same, and we all know how they were assigned.

The question remains: Will January 1, 2000, be the first day of the new millennium? The answer is an emphatic, Yes! By popular demand, the second millennium will last only 999 years. The new millennium will begin. Armed with the logic described above, academicians may proclaim that the millennium won’t end until after the year 2000. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter. Popular culture has proclaimed a new millennium. You may ask what pop culture has to do with it. It has everything to do with it. The millennium is not an astronomical event; it’s an arbitrary cultural event, based on an arbitrary calendar. Only 400 years ago, the Julian calendar was corrected by the Gregorian calendar. Only in our recent past have the masses of people routinely been aware of what year it is, much less cared about what decade or what century. Only 250 years ago, the British Parliament officially moved the start of the year from Spring to the first of January. Those who were unaware of the change, or refused to change, continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. We know them as April Fools. Perhaps we’ll have a new batch of Millennium Fools on January 1, 2001.


One Response to “A New Reckoning”

  1. brokenclaw says:

    Update: January 1, 2001, has come and gone without much millenium fanfare. There were a few minor articles in the papers, quoting officials from the US Naval Observatory, and a few brief mentions on the electronic media. But for the most part, pop culture prevailed.

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