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Is this the real millennium?
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Last New Year's, George Ward and his friends, stricken with the flu, sniffled on the sidelines while much of the planet rang in the new millennium with abandon.
This year, the UK-based travel writer got a second chance to celebrate the party of the century -- courtesy of a 6th century monk and a 20th century Marxist.
The monk is Roman scholar Dionysius the Diminutive, who created the Gregorian calendar beginning with the year 1 A.D. -- a concession to Roman numerology, which had no symbol for "0."
His decision sparked an ongoing squabble -- often cast as a battle between number-crunching pedants and free-spirited pragmatists -- over when centuries and millennia begin and end.
The Marxist is Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who -- in a snub to millennium organising committees the world over -- spurned last year's festivities, insisting they were a year early.
So now, scores of people, including Ward and his friends, who missed out last year or were looking for a reprise of Y2K revelry headed to the sun-splashed communist isle off the U.S. coast.
"I think we are going to get this Castro idea that the world is wrong and we are right," Ward said.
Return to normality
For most people -- including experts who say the millennium officially starts on January 1, 2001 -- this New Year's was seen as a welcome return to normality after last year's hype.
Robert Massey, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England -- site of the prime meridian and the place where, officials say, the new millennium began -- takes a light-hearted approach towards those who marked the millennium last year.
"It's not something in a sense that I get terribly upset about. I wouldn't lose sleep over the fact that people celebrate a year earlier," Massey said. "We were just as happy to celebrate (on January 1, 2000) as anyone else."
While that may be the case, the Royal Observatory's Web site goes to great pains to make its case for a January 1, 2001, celebration, citing an editorial from The (London) Times newspaper of December 26, 1799, that was categorical in its stance:
"We have uniformly rejected all letters and declined all discussions upon the question of when the present century ends, as it is one of the most absurd that can engage the public, and we are astonished to find it has been the subject of so much dispute since it appears plain," the editorial said. "The present century will not terminate till January 1, 1801, unless it can be made out that 99 are 100."
Millennium 2001 boosters, meanwhile, have been conducting an Internet campaign to draw attention to their cause.
There are sites selling Millennium 2001 French crystal stemware, Millennium 2001 party-sized foil hats and "Jamboree 2001 tiaras." One Singapore-based retailer offers a limited-edition Millennium 2001 pendant "for the discerning ladies who want something special for the new millennium."
Even countdowns are accounted for.
Timeanddate.com was keeping watch on the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds separating the Web surfer from January 1, 2001, in scores of cities, from Adelaide to Vladivostok.
Meanwhile, in the brick-and-mortar world, travel companies that experienced a slump in winter holiday business last year have been reporting swifter sales. Paul Wedgewood, retail manager at Thomas Cook, said most of the industry "probably got its fingers burnt last year on the millennium."
He blamed the downturn on over-ambitious pricing for millennium getaways; fears of travelling at a time when the Y2K computer bug was on many peoples' minds; and the inability to get away from work for those expected to remain "on call" because of the bug.
Thomas Cook said it was not pitching any holidays this year with a millennium theme. "It got so hugely hyped 12 months ago that I think the appetite for that is just not there whatsoever."
London's Millennium Dome, which heralded the millennium last year with a grandiose light show and a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, chose to end its act on a much quieter note after a year of public relations setbacks and missed sales targets. The last person out of the Dome on December 31, 2000, was to simply shut off the lights.
In Paris, a spokeswoman for the Mission 2000 Millennium Committee said the city that brought the world images of the Eiffel Tower ablaze in a burst of sparkling fireworks last New Year's Eve had no plans for further festivities to mark 2001.
The UK Millennium Commission also said its mission was to have been largely accomplished by December 31, 2000. Nina Baxter, a spokeswoman, said the commission "book-ended" the year by holding events in more than two dozen towns and cities this New Year's Eve.
"The year 2000 to 2001 is the bridging year," Baxter said. "It's like going from naught to one."
For others, though, the talk of millennial bridges is beside the point.
Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, had urged people to celebrate the new millennium this New Year's Eve.
"The intelligent minority of this world will mark 1 January 2001 as the real beginning of the 21st century and the new millennium," Clarke said.
The statement by the 83-year-old writer came a year after he admonished those who celebrated last year.
"Though some people have difficulty grasping this," Clarke said at the time, "we'll have had only 99 years of this century by January 1, 2000."
You can almost hear a beyond-the-grave "amen" from Dionysius.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Europe welcomes 2000 with dazzling light displays
Royal Observatory Greenwich
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