The world rings in the new year on the wrong tune

In Features /

By Renata Ferraz

As the world gets ready to party at the turn of the century, all the hoopla is happening a year too early, as much of the population disregards the legitimate beginning of the third millennium — the year 2001.

Everybody is frantic about the year 2000 because it embodies a good reason for celebration and fulfills the human need for rituals, says Ryerson sociology professor Robert Argue. “People need a reason to party,” he says. “It’s part of human nature.”

Argue says the Western world, which organizes itself by the Gregorian calendar, is arrogant about the turn of the century because it disregards other calendars such as the Chinese and Islamic.

Argue says the Gregorian calendar is inaccurate because it overestimated Christ’s birth by four years. But that date — commonly presented as year 0 in timeliness — is still used as a marker.

“The year 2000 has happened already,” Argue says, referring to this four-year error.

But the year 0 in itself is an abstract date. The first millennium was completed in 1000 AD (because people count from 1 to 1000, not from 0 to 1000, which would result in 1001 units). So the second millennium began in 1001 and will conclude Dec. 31, 2000, and the third millennium begins in 2001.

Apart from the mathematical confusion, other factors contribute to the popularity of celebrating the third millennium a year early.

“Society is driven by irrationality,” Argue says. Science is complex and “it can go over people’s heads,” so misconceptions and ignorance persist.

Others will celebrate on the wrong date because they’ve been persuaded to do so by the mass media, which Argue says “depends on fads and crises.”

The year 2000 is a trend — it provides an excuse to throw parties, rituals, festivals and carnivals. And be prepared to live through them over again when the year 2001 arrives.

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