When does next millennium really start?
We live in a society obsessed with numbers. From online stock traders to
those who pore over baseball box scores in the newspaper, we Americans pay homage to the almighty digits and decimals on a daily basis.
And so it only follows that we have grown to consider Jan. 1, 2000, as a
national holiday. Two thousand is a nice, round number – quite easy to relate to in a computerized society that has come to be ruled by a series of 1’s and 0’s.
So as we prepare to begin the new millennium, it is important to … uh,
wait a minute. The year 2000 is the beginning of the next millennium, isn’t it?
Ah, there’s the rub. Numbers are easy to pin down, but concepts such as the beginning of the current millennium are a little more difficult especially due to the fact that none of us was around when the Gregorian Calendar was invented.
Believe it or not, there is a brewing controversy – mostly contained on the Internet – over when the next millennium officially begins. Some say Jan. 1, 2000 … some say Jan. 1, 2001 (the majority view).
And surprisingly, there are other contenders. It seems that some people will argue about anything.
David Letterman, host of the CBS Late Show, had a rather amusing take on the controversy in a recent sketch. Letterman, perplexed over when the next millennium actually begins, looked to band leader Paul Schaeffer for answers. Schaeffer took Letterman to his office, and lined up10 apples across his desk.
“Now, there are ten apples here,” Schaeffer patiently explained. “Now, you wouldn’t call this first apple ‘zero,’ would you? No. It’s apple No. 1. So apple No. 10 corresponds to our year 2000, the last year of the millennium. So the next millennium, or series of apples, begins in 2001.”
Letterman considers this, scratches his head, and takes a bite out of one of the apples. Defeated, Schaeffer leaves the office.
And that’s the way most of us look at the millennium “controversy” – we’d
rather just forget the whole thing and eat the apple.
But the pathological bean counters among us really need to resolve this issue. So here are some other apples to chew on.
The Jan. 1, 2000 theory. Some historians say that there was indeed a “year
zero” – the time between Jan. 1, 1 BC and Jan. 1, 1 AD. So on Jan. 1, Year 1, we had already
completed one full year of the millennium. Following this logic, when a baby turns 1 year old, that means that it has lived for one year. Or, by analogy, when our world turns 2000, it will have lived for 2000 years. We will, therefore, have completed two millenniums and be ready to enter the third.
The Jan. 1, 2001 theory. The modern calendar does not account for a “year zero.” Accordingly, we started with the Year 1, and the next millennium will not begin until Jan. 1, 2001.
Credit the modern calendar to a 6th century monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguss, who was compiling a table of dates for Easter under commission of Pope St. John I.
Dionysius decided to mark modern time from the birth of Christ, reckoning that date to be 753 AUC (from the founding of Rome), or 1 AD (annodomini – the year of our lord). When Dionysius was figuring out his new calendar, the concept of “zero” did not even exist.
The problem was, Dionysius did not establish an accurate date for the birth of Christ. Scholars generally believe that Christ was born a few years before 1 A.D., but records are so
sketchy that it is not certain exactly when the calendar should have been started. Dionysius mapped Christ’s birthday as Dec. 25 – the old Roman winter solstice on the Julian calendar. Scholars believe that date was arbitrarily chosen to counter pagan rituals.
Today, it would have made sense to begin a calendar with the year 0, but
the concept of negative numbers did not come into use in Europe until the 17th century.
Notably, the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge, England, has decreed that the first day of the third millennium falls on Jan. 1, 2001.
The non-Christian theories. A number of cultures have their own calendars that do not embrace the B.C./A.D. framework. In China, our year 2000 will be their year 5760. Meanwhile, the Muslim calendar began when Mohammed moved from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. Our year 2000 will be their year 1420. And Hindus are in the middle of a calendar cycle that will end in the world’s destruction (but not for another 350,000 years).
The “I don’t care, I’m invited to a party” theory. Those who are not sticklers for accuracy, and even
some who are, will be whooping it up on Dec. 31, 1999, no matter what the experts say about the exact date of the new millennium. Whose to say that we can’t celebrate the new millennium a year early if we want to?
Besides, the way many of these elaborate, far-flung millennium parties are taking shape, it may take an entire year to celebrate them.
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