I live in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. When it was 3 a.m. this morning here, Kiritimati (aka Christmas Island), in the Pacific Ocean, welcomed 2014. An hour later, Auckland, New Zealand turned the calendar page to January. Auckland is the first major city on Earth to welcome the New Year. These places are to the immediate West of the International Date Line.
I have always found this concept of the International Dateline confusing. If you cross the IDL going eastward, you subtract 24 hours, so that you repeat the date to the west of the line where you have just come from. If you cross the line going westward, you add 24 hours to your calendar, and thus, you miss a whole day. You cross it off with no entries in it. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right.
This imaginary line, the IDL, runs from the north pole to the south pole, dividing one calendar day from the next. The Line passes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, following 180 degrees Longitude, except where it shifts to miss some populated areas. Running the International Date Line through the middle of a populated area would lead to nothing but confusion. Imagine if you lived on opposite ends of a “divided” island, and you were planning when to meet to go for coffee. How would you know which day you were in?
For this reason, the Meridian juts east or west to avoid crossing nations. As a result, all of Siberia is to the west of the IDL and all of Alaska is to the east.
The IDL is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Prime Meridian, or the 0 degree line of Longitude.
The Prime Meridian is the Meridian from which all time zones are calculated. Time zones to the east of the Prime Meridian are in advance of UTC (up to UTC+14), whereas time zones to the west are behind UTC (to UTC-12). UTC is Coordinated Universal Time and is interchanged with Greenwich Mean Time or GMT.
The areas on the West side of the International Date Line have the most advanced time on Earth and that is why Christmas Island / Kiritimati has New Years first. Situated on the East side of the International Date Line, Honolulu, Hawaii is among the last places to welcome the New Year.
And so, wherever you happen to be on the planet, I wish for you a Happy New Year!
Calgary skyline from Rolf Stengl