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The End Of A Decade? Or Maybe Not

January 1, 2020

Today is January 1, 2020. The new year is often a time for setting goals. For making resolutions. A new year ending in a zero is also the time to argue about when the decade begins and ends.

When a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?

That seems like a simple question, right? The first time I heard it I failed to see the issue. I love riddles. But, I didn’t see how this question had anything but a simple, straight-forward answer. Of course it makes a sound.

But, it’s not simple, is it? Is something a sound if the sound waves fail to interact with a listening device?

The question of when the decade starts and ends is the same type of question in my opinion.

Does the decade start on January 1, 2020?

Yes. Absolutely!

Does the decade start on January 1, 2021?

Yes. Absolutely!

Let’s look at the second question first. The argument that the decade doesn’t start until 2021 is based on the origins of our calendar. We use what’s called the Gregorian Calendar. It was implemented by Pope Gregory in October 1582. The Gregorian Calendar was based on the much older Julian Calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Of course, Caesar didn’t count it as 46 years before the birth of Christ (or 46 BCE, Before the Common Era.) Instead, to him it was year 708 AUC, or 708 years from the founding of the city of Rome.

So why did Pope Gregory feel the need to change the calendar 1600 years later? And what does it have to do with 1/1/2020 vs 2021?

The problem was leap years, and leap centuries. The Julian Calendar was just a little off when it came to calculating when to remove those extra days. But, it was close. So, the mistake didn’t show up for a while. . .like for sixteen centuries.

When Gregory implemented the Gregorian Calendar, it included a “correction.” It removed ten days out of October to correct the extra days that had crept in over the centuries. October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15, 1582. Kind of a bummer for kids who had birthdays the second week of October. Wonder if their parents gave them a make-up party?

Just as an added bit of trivia, only the Catholic world adopted the Gregorian Calendar with its “fixed” dates. The Anglican world (Britain and her colonies) didn’t adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1752. By that time it was another day out of date, so September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752.

George Washington, America’s first president was born February 11, 1731. The United Kingdom, and the Virginia Colony switched to the Gregorian Calendar when Washington was 31 years old. The “rules” around the calendar switch meant that everyone’s birthday moved “forward” to the new date. So, we now consider Washington’s birthday as February 22, 1732. (They subtracted a year from everyone’s age to make up for shorting them the 11 days.) Anyway, the thing was, Washington didn’t like his new birthday of February 22. He insisted on continuing to celebrate it on February 11.

Okay, let’s come back to our discussion of decades starting and ending. The Julian Calendar (with its Gregorian correction) has been applied to our modern record of years. Instead of 708 AUC, we consider that Julius Caesar proposed his namesake calendar in 46 BC. We can count down the years from 46 BC to 1 BC, the year before the one we use as the accepted year of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The next year is counted as 1 AD (AD stands for Anno Domini, the year of our Lord.) The calendar then counts up from 1 AD to 1582 when Pope Gregory subtracted those 10 days for the Catholic world, to 1752 when the United Kingdom subtracted 11 days and joined the rest of the world, and on through 2020 where we find ourselves today.

Here’s the point: When the Julian Calendar rolled over to 1 AD, it started counting time. Because there was no year 0, the first full year wasn’t complete until AD 1 was complete. When the calendar rolled over to 10 AD, only 9 years had transpired. At the end AD 10, when the calendar rolled over the 11 AD, the world had finally completed its first decade on the plus side of Anno Domini.

Fast forward another decade and a couple of millennia. When we reach the start of 2020 the world has only enjoyed 2,019 years since the start of 1 AD. The next decade won’t start until we’ve completed those 2,020 years. That will happen at the end of 2020, when we roll over into January 1, 2021.

Right? Perfect. Easy peasy lemon sqeezey.

So, why do people not understand this? (Okay, not everyone is a calendar geek like me, but still, there are plenty of people who have written about this.)

The problem is that we aren’t talking about a person. We don’t have to try to reconcile the lack of a year zero and what that means for counting decades, centuries and millennia.

Think about George Washington and the year 1752; the year the United Kingdom adopted the Gregorian Calendar. When was Washington born? Was he born on February 11 or February 22?

Both. It simply depends on your perspective. If you use the Julian Calendar he was born on one day and if you use the Gregorian calendar he was born on a different day. But, the reality is that he was born on a single day. The seeming conflict is in us and our perception of time and dates. Tell me, did 1752 have 365 days or did it have only 354? Yes, and yes.

Does the “tens” decade end on December 31, 2019 or is it a year later? It’s perfectly acceptable to say the “tens” decade starts on January 1, 2010 and ends on December 31, 2019. Those are the only days that have a “ten” in the year. It would be crazy to say the 20’s don’t start until after we’ve had a year writing 2020 on that one check we send to the vendor who doesn’t accept electronic funds payments. It’s equally wrong to say that the “tens” decade continues after we no longer use a “ten” in the dates we write. How can the “tens” decade include the year 2020?

So, if someone wants to argue that the new decade really doesn’t start until next January, don’t argue. They are right. And so are you. There are more important things to argue about. Like that whole falling tree and noise question.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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