The Question of the Year

So – yeah, day job siphoned away my free time again this past month – sorry about that. But now that Christmas is fading into the rear view mirror, and as we count down the final days of the decade, I thought it would be good to…

Wait a second, back up a bit. Are we counting down the final days of the decade? Work with me on this.

It seems fairly obvious to most of us that we’re counting down the final days of the decade. On January 1, it would seem safe to say that the 2020’s will begin. The last time we had some Twenties, we decided they were Roaring. Will these next Twenties roar? Maybe. But do they really start on January 1, 2020? Let’s follow that thread for a moment.

If the 2020’s begin on this coming January 1, then the 2010’s began on January 1, 2010. And the 2000’s began on January 1, 2000. And so on and so forth through the past centuries, until you get nearly all the way back to the beginning of the years A.D. So the 10’s started on January 1, 10. But that would mean the 0’s started on January 1, 0. And now we have a problem. There was no year 0. The last year B.C. was 1 B.C., and the first year A.D. was 1 A.D. That means if the next decade starts on January 1, 2020, then by extrapolation the first decade A.D. only had nine years in it (years 1 through 9) – basically a complete failure as a decade. Ergo, the 2020’s have no choice but to officially start on January 1, 2021.

If you don’t like that, centuries are even worse. The first century started in the year 1, and having 100 years in it like any good century should, ended on December 31, 100. The second century started on January 1, 101. Extrapolating forward, the 20th century started on January 1, 1901, and the 21st century started on January 1, 2001.

If you don’t like that, millennia are worse still. Despite all the fanfare and hoopla we put into New Year’s Eve in 1999, we were basically a year early in our celebration of the new millennium, which didn’t start until January 1, 2001.

All of this, of course, roots back to our decision at some point to establish the transition point from B.C. to A.D., and at this point I need to clarify “our” refers to Western Christian-centric civilization and its associated calendar system. Astronomical, Buddhist, and Hindu calendars are all examples of systems that do in fact have a year 0. So why did those calendars have a year 0 while “ours” doesn’t? A big part of the reason is that the whole A.D. thing was introduced when Roman culture still had a significant influence on the world, and there is no zero in Roman numerals. The history of zero even as a concept is a fascinating subject all its own, and maybe that’ll be the subject of a future post here. But for the purposes of this post, in 525, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus established that it had been 525 years since the birth of Christ, and the world effectively shrugged its shoulders, and that’s what our nation and many others accept to this day when keeping time.

Fortunately, we have not had occasion as yet to worry about when the first ten thousand years A.D. have elapsed. There is no official term in the English language for that number of years, but the Japanese have a word for it: banzai. And one day, thousands of years from now, assuming we haven’t exterminated ourselves as a species, I am fairly certain our descendants will all wrongly celebrate the beginning of the second banzai on January 1, 10000.

Cheers! Can’t believe it’s only a year and change until the next decade starts.

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