The start of a new decade is not 2010

As I rang in the New Year at 12 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2010, I was celebrating another new year, but there was also something in which I was not celebrating which many others seemed to think they were.

What I was not celebrating was the beginning of a new decade.

There has been some confusion over whether 2010 is the last year of the current decade, or the first year in the next one. After all, a decade is 10 years long; I hope no one will argue that. Is that 10 years, though, from 2000 to 2009, or 2001 to 2010? The record needs to be set straight here.

The Julian calendar was the accepted calendar until the year 1582. One of the defining characteristics of this calendar is that it has a year zero. If we start with the year zero, and count forward by 10, the ninth year would conclude the decade. Translating that into our current enigma, Dec. 31, 2009 would mark the last day of this decade.

While the Julian calendar and astronomical year numbering include the year zero, and therefore a decade ending in a “9,” the Gregorian calendar differs. Pope Gregory XIII introduced his calendar in 1582, which is now the internationally accepted calendar and has been for some time. There were a few late arrivals of countries that were still following the Julian calendar, but nearly everyone now uses the Gregorian calendar.

The difference is that the Gregorian calendar does not have a year zero; therefore, it starts at one. If we count ten years from one, we come to ten as being the last year in the decade. Once again, if we translate this into current day, the decade would start on Jan. 1, 2001, and end on Dec. 31, 2010.

There was a similar dispute when the year 2000 rolled around. People went around celebrating the “millennium,” when actually, the start of the millennium was not until 2001.

If we want to go around using the Julian calendar or astronomical numbering, we may celebrate this recent New Year as the start of the new decade. But my question is, why would we use the Julian calendar? It is outdated and is accepted by almost no one. We should follow the Gregorian calendar if we are to be correct and consistent with the calendars we hang on our walls.

I was disappointed when both of my hometown newspapers, the Daily Herald and the Chicago Tribune, were marking the end of a decade and the start of a new one. How could these major newspapers get this wrong?

Maybe people just want to be able to celebrate the new decade two years in a row. I think it is more likely, though, that those celebrating a new decade this past Jan. 1 were simply misinformed. So if you celebrated a new decade, lucky for you because you get to do it again next year, but for the rest of us, we will be celebrating the end of a decade for the first time this coming New Year’s Eve.