A Brief History of the Calendar

by David Harper, PhD, FRAS

Towards the New Millennium

The approach of the year 2000 has been keenly anticipated in the Western world. We view the end of the old year and the birth of the new as a moment for reflection on things past and hope for things to come. How much more so, at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium.

A thousand years ago, at the end of the first millennium of the Christian era, there was widespread panic that the end of the world was imminent. The Bible itself speaks of a thousand years as a special period of time, and links it with great upheaval.

Today, a thousand years later, we can take a more rational view. We no longer dread the approach of the new millennium. Indeed, the Kiribati Republic, a widely-dispersed family of islands in the Pacific Ocean, has renamed one of its islands to "Millennium Island" and declared a change to the International Date Line so that it will be the first nation on Earth to see the sun rise on the morning of January 1st, 2000!

In Britain, there was consternation in Lowestoft, the most easterly town in England, on learning that, despite its special geographical position, it would not be the first place in the country to see the sunrise in the new millennium. That honour goes instead to South Foreland, on the Kent coast just north of Dover.