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Jumping the gun on millennium fever

PSSST ... come over here. Yeah, you. I'm gonna tell you a secret, my friend. All those pre-millennium travel plans you're making? You're about one year too early. That's right. The 20th century will, in fact, last a full 100 years, despite global efforts to the contrary.

I know, I know - I'm being a terrible killjoy here. Certainly it's more convenient to have the century end now. That way, we can launch the next millennium with a brand-spanking new "2" and three shiny zeroes. "Jubilee 2000" - it's marketable and fun.

Besides, do we really want to belabor the present epoch for another 12 months? Let's not forget that the past thousand years have featured famine, war, plague and Pauly Shore.

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Perhaps it would be better just to start fresh, to re-order time in the interests of good old-fashioned commercialism.

This, at least, seems to be the logic currently driving the tourism industry. All over the world, cities have planned festivals and other events to mark the arrival of the new century. New York City, for instance, will host a 24-hour "Crossroads of the World" celebration in Times Square this New Year's Eve, during which each of the 24 global time zones will receive a special salute.

The party begins at 7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Dec. 31, when the New Year comes to the Fiji Islands. According to one press release from the Times Square Business Improvement District (the organization responsible for planning the event), over 1.5 million people will throng mid-town Manhattan over the course of the day.

In Ireland, millennium celebrations have been going on for the past seven months, thanks to the government-sponsored National Millennium Committee. The group awards funding to musical and cultural events that appeal to a large, party-hungry audience.

In early September, the Committee helped showcase the "Millennium Drum," a 6-foot-tall percussion instrument that, with its impressive 15-foot diameter and over 2,000 nuts and bolts, stands as the biggest drum in the world. The drum will appear at several more millennium-related festivals in Ireland before the year is out, thus helping the country usher in the new century with an enormous bang.

Even the Holy Land is getting into the millennium spirit. "Nazareth 2000" is the Israeli Ministry of Tourism's flagship project, charged with renovating and restoring the old pilgrim routes leading to various historical sites in Jerusalem.

According to an article published on the official Tourism and Recreation home page, the Israeli government allocated an additional $40 million to improve the main roads to the famous town of Nazareth and other Christian sites. Between 1999 and 2000, Israel predicts that up to 15 million people will visit Jerusalem's markets, hotels and resorts.

The problem is that all these celebrations are scheduled exactly one year prematurely. The new millennium will not begin Jan. 1, 2000, but rather Jan. 1, 2001. The adjustment makes logical sense. Since there was no year 0, the first century of the Common Era spanned the years 1 C.E. to 101 C.E.

This small but important fact, however, daunts neither the tourism industry, nor the millions of travelers who eagerly will spend their money on pre-millennium junkets to major urban centers like New York.

Even Charlottesville, the seat of learning for central Virginia, has caught the millennium bug. Last week I saw a poster advertising "the last Foxfield Race of the 20th century," despite the fact that there remain two more races before the century officially ends.

Although it's easy to point out this instance of global date-fudging, even I won't be postponing my millennium plans in the interests of mathematical accuracy.

My friends and I plan to welcome the new year from New Orleans' famous Bourbon Street. Why? Because a party's a party - and the prospect of all those zeroes simply is too much to resist.

(Kiki Petrosino's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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