For Release November 30, 1999

Calendars, Centuries and Millenniums

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again, I love numbers. Part of that may be due to all those hours of statistics that I took in graduate school. We spent a lot of time in those classes talking about things like precision and accuracy. And while, from a statisticians point of view, precision may be more important than accuracy, I like to be accurate whenever possible.

I have been watching this year 2000 approach with great interest, and I knew that there was going to be a lot of confusion regarding the big date change. There are going to be some big parties on December 31, 1999, and you are certainly free to celebrate anything you want, any time you want. Another important consideration is that at any point in time we are ending a one hundred year period (a century) or a one thousand year period (a millennium). However, if you are following the Gregorian calendar (as most people in the United States do), then the 20th century and the second millennium, do not end until midnight, December 31, 2000. I guess itíd better be a long party!

It is estimated that around the world, right now, there are about forty different calendars in use. Only about a half dozen of these are in broad use. But the world standard, currently used by governments and most business, is the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar was established by the 6th century scholar Dionysius Exiguus who was compiling a table of dates for the Christian Easter. Most calendars had a starting point called an initial epoch. The Gregorian calendar uses the birth of Christ as the initial epoch. Although many scholars feel that Christ was born several years before A.D. 1, it is still used as the starting point.

Therefore years A.D. 1 through A.D. 10 become the first decade of the first century of the first millennium. Following through, the first century ended on December 31, 100, and the first millennium ended on December 31, 1000. We are currently ending the ninth year of the tenth decade of the of the tenth century of the second millennium, or the ninth year of the tenth decade of the twentieth century. Thus, the tenth year of the tenth decade wonít be until 2000.

One of the big problems is that we tend to focus on the first two numbers instead of the last two. So when we roll from 1999 to 2000, itís a big deal. In a societal context we often find it very handy to talk about the Ď70s or the Ď80s or the Ď90s. This is still a decade (a ten year period), but instead of being the eighth or ninth or tenth decade of the century, it is the decade of the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s. The same can be said of the century. December 31, 1999, will be the last date of the 1990s, it will be the end of the 1900s, but it wonít be the end of the 20th century or the second millennium. That occurs at the end of the year 2000.

Muddling the whole picture has been the Y2K computer date change situation and other prophecies of apocalyptic events. Calendars have been invented by humans in an attempt to keep track of events, both past, present and future. I think itís kind of neat to be here to watch the year change from 1999 to 2000. Itís kind of like watching your car odometer roll over 100,000 miles. So celebrate all you want. All the numbers change at once. Come December 31st you can celebrate the end of the 1900s. You can celebrate the start of the last year of the second millennium. And then a year from now, you can get ready to celebrate the start of the third millennium.


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