Samoa and Kiribati, the first places in the world to welcome the New Year

(CNN) — This could be the answer to winning the jackpot on a game show: The Pacific islands of Samoa and Kiribati share the annual distinction of being first in the world.

And the right question would be: Where is the New Year celebrated first?

Due to their position close to the irregularly drawn International Date Line, these two polygamous destinations, located approximately halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, are first in line to celebrate the New Year.

What is the International Date Line?

A new day has to start somewhere, right? And that’s what the International Date Line does.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this line is an artificial boundary established in 1884 to separate two consecutive calendar dates.

It follows 180 degree longitude lines (lines running north to south around the world versus latitude lines running east to west).

“When you cross the date line, you become a time traveler of sorts! Cross to the west and it’s a day later; Cross back and you’ve gone back in time,” NOAA says.

The line is drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole, but it is not an exact and uniform line. It revolves around political boundaries, such as the eastern tip of Russia and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and islands located further south in the Pacific.

And how did Samoa and Kiribati claim to be “first”?

Very simple: These two groups of islands are closest to the west side of the line that crosses other Pacific islands, such as New Zealand and the Marshall Islands, which lie to the west.

But something is going on with Kiribati, isn’t it?

Before the mid-1990s, the International Date Line divided Kiribati in two, putting the western part a full day ahead of the eastern part and causing headaches when doing business, CNN’s Holly Yan explained.

“Now, the date line is offset by a massive more than 2,400 kilometers around the easternmost islands of Kiribati, so that the entire country is on the same calendar day.”

Kiribati: This low-lying island chain is a dream of the South Pacific, although climate change and increasing flooding are concerns here. (Credit: Justin McManus/The AGE/Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

Why do Samoa and American Samoa have different schedules?

Here is a line that connects history and money and gives us a very funny and interesting story.

European explorers did not reach the Samoan archipelago until the 1700s. The island group was eventually divided between Germany and the United States.

New Zealand ruled the German archipelago when World War I began, and Samoa became fully independent in 1962. Meanwhile, nearby American Samoa remains an autonomous territory of the United States.

Samoa and American Samoa are only 163 kilometers apart… and for a whole year for a whole day!

Kiribati: Coral reefs and crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean are the main attractions of these islands. (Credit: Justin McManus/The AGE/Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

How can this be possible?

Until 2011, the entire Samoan archipelago was on the same side of the International Date Line, to the east. So it was the last place in the world to welcome each New Year.

But this proved to be a real headache for the independent Samoans when it came to trading with their most valued trading partners, such as New Zealand and Australia. The line to Samoa was rerouted to facilitate trade transactions. American Samoa, more closely linking its economic interests to the United States, remained on its traditional line.

This explains why in 2020, Samoa saw the New Year before American Samoa, even though they are much closer to each other.

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