A New Decade
Today marks more than my last column for 2020. For starters, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “good riddance.” Regardless of where we live, we can all agree it’s been a year of enormous turmoil.
So here’s to 2021. And not only are we ushering in a new year, but we’re also ushering in a new decade (and if we’re all lucky, a new era!).
A new decade? I feel the eyebrow lift, hear the question. Yes. A new decade.
Although many people, myself included, celebrated 2020 as the dawn of a new decade, they may be as relieved as I was to learn it was not. The year 2021 is the beginning.
Which begs the question, who’s to blame for our collective confusion? Believe it or not, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, it all goes back to a guy named, I kid you not, “Dennis the Short,” aka Dionysius Exiguus. Dennis the Short is credited with having been the first to suggest counting the passage of years from the date of the birth of Jesus Christ, aka Anno Domini (Latin for Year of Our Lord) or, AD.
While there’s a lot of hemming and hawing about Dionysius’ calculations regarding the year Christ was born, those calculations really have no bearing when it comes to our calendar. Dennis the Short determined Christ dated to 525 AD, and that was that.
Well, it was until 731 AD, when a Northumbrian monk named Bede, aka the Venerable Bede, popularized the Dennis the Short “Anno Domini” in Anglo-Saxon England, and then extended the counting of years to include those before the birth of Christ, establishing the BC era.
And right here is the moment it got ugly.
Bede did not account for the year zero. So, 1 AD was not preceded by a zero, but by 1 BC.
Now anyone who’s ever lived in a high rise with the floors going directly from 12 to 14, or lives in a place with a lobby on floor zero, knows exactly why this is a mathematical conundrum—of the arguable kind.
And you don’t need to heed Short Dennis’s or Venerable Bede’s take on this. After all, their thinking is rather “old school” to put it mildly.
But for a more modern interpretation, the US Naval Observatory, the agency that maintains the country's master clock, actually tackled this question in 1999 as people debated when the new millennium would begin.
According to the astronomical dating system measuring time, the observatory stated that the new millennium would begin on January 1, 2001.
Ergo, 2021 would be the start of a new decade. Right? Well…what about all those other calendars? The Jewish-Islamic-Hindu, etc. And what about common language? We say “if you can remember the 60s.…” We don’t say “If you can remember the 60s plus 1970….”
We do, however, say time is an illusion.
So Konstantin Bikos, lead editor of TimeandDate.com, confirms, unlike the fights that have been going on for decades, centuries and millennia, that decades always start with years ending in 1. Those time spans are typically referred to as numbered entities counted up from the year 1 AD, as in the "21st century" or the "third millennium."
So you know what? Let’s forget about whether or not to usher in a new decade. Let’s look at 2021 and join our collective confusion together and fervently hope that it ushers in the dawn of a new era. And let this be an era of kindness. An era of hope. An era of peace. An era of prosperity. An era of health. An era in which no one goes to bed hungry.
Let’s hope for an era in which we believe we are better standing together, than we are standing apart.
And to our local lad made good, President-elect Biden, this will be your era to give us the kick-off. Personally, I think jump-starting your era with Kamala Harris is the best kind of proof that we once again can recapture our optimistic best. As Joe Biden said, standing on stage at the only drive-in/tail-gate bigger than a night out at our own Dover International, “it is time for our better angels to prevail.”
New Millenia. New Era. Either way, as we head into Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanza-New Year and so much more, Joe’s right. And, if I may be so bold, he’s wrong. It is not time simply for our better angels to prevail. It’s time for our best.
See you in 2021 for the dawn of a new era!