The Final Countdown: So is 2020 the New Decade or Nah?


The Final Countdown: So is 2020 the New Decade or Nah?

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

New Year’s Eve is the one time in the year when most people can get along. After 364 days of drudgery, comes an evening where work is off the menu, debauched entertainment is the main course, and the comforting myth that the next morning will bring a fresh start is the dessert. It’s simple, uncomplicated fun, so of course people had to ruin it.

This year, New Year’s Eve isn’t just the biggest party on the calendar, it’s also fodder for a heated debate, both online and in the real world – a debate that has driven a wedge between logic and emotion. The debate isn’t a run-of-the-mill one which unfolds every year – house party or a pub? – but one that rears its head only once every 10 years. The topic: Is January 1, 2020 the start of a new decade, or not?

Look, to me this is pretty cut  and dried. If we’re going to be calling the coming decade the ’20s in the future, then 2020 marks the start of the ’20s. I’m a simple guy, and I like a simple answer. But the decade debate doesn’t have a simple answer, and that has provided fuel to a certain camp of people who enjoy being downers to point out that actually, according to scientific convention, the new decade will really begin on January 1, 2021. The logic (put here in the plainest terms) being that the calendar we follow doesn’t begin with Year 0 but Year 1, hence a decade is completed at the end of Year 10.

Of course, the type of people who enjoy going over the nitty-gritty of scientific convention do not overlap much with the type of people who enjoy a good party, so I’m not surprised that there’s a contingent out there to sabotage the “End of the Decade” bashes being planned in homes, bars, and nightclubs around the world. Now, based on the facts at hand, these party-poopers are technically correct, but like I said, the answer to the decade debate isn’t a simple one.

The debate isn’t a run-of-the-mill one which unfolds every year – house party or a pub? – but one that rears its head only once every 10 years.

A New York Times report titled “When Does the New Decade Begin?” informs us that working with historical calendars isn’t the only way designate when a decade begins. Emily Brewster, a senior editor at Merriam-Webster, is quoted in the report saying, “It is interesting that there is this arbitrariness… It’s unconventional, like language.” According to Brewster, a decade in popular culture is not defined by scientific convention. Because of this, the 2020s will begin on January 1, 2020, and end on December 31, 2029.

If both interpretations are valid, why are the calendar nuts clinging to the driftwood of their imagined intellectual superiority instead of climbing on board the boat hosting the biggest party in 10 years with the rest of us? Their points been made – we now know who the most pedantic person in our friend circle, office team, and WhatsApp group is, which I imagine was the point they were trying to make.

At this point, I’m reminded of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The man is a famous astrophysicist, the holder of multiple degrees, and much smarter than us humble folk, but is still mostly famous for being that guy who annoys everyone by surfacing on New Year’s Eve to remind people how pointless it is to celebrate an arbitrary point in the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. He’s been doing it for most of the decade, going as far back as 2011, and judging by the replies he gets on Twitter, most people are sick of his shtick. People dread Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweets on New Year’s as much as they fear the time our PM says he has an announcement to make. So what the people standing in the way of everyone bringing in 2020 with a grand End of the Decade party need to do is take a good, long, hard look at themselves and ask themselves if they want to be that guy.

They’re fighting a losing battle anyway. Some of us have been here before, and we know how this debate goes. When the new millennium was around the corner, there was a similar debate over whether it began in 2000 or 2001. Of course, anyone who remembers the hype around Y2K will tell you that the people rooting for the millennium to begin in 2000 won the day. Once people get wound up about an upcoming celebration, it’s better to let them have it, unless you want to end up with the aftermath of a cancelled Metallica concert in Delhi. That’s the power of a well-hyped party. And on January 1, 2020, it shall prevail again.