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Arts & Culture

My New Year's Is 62 Million Times Bigger Than Yours, Said The Man From Beijing

The New Year comes, of course, at midnight. But because we have different time zones, we have many different midnights and some are much more crowded than others.

This morning I asked myself: who's got the biggest New Year's Eve on earth? By which I mean: which time zone has the most people in it. And the answer is clear.

If you look at this world time zone map, one zone, which we've highlighted it in yellow has, as you can see, all of China, all 1.3 billion of 'em, plus a hunk of Siberia, plus Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, a chunk of Indonesia, Timor and a cut of Australia. Altogether, that's got to be at least 1.5 billion people who will greet 2012 at the very same moment.

Party-wise (assuming Confucian cultures pay our New Year's eve any mind, and I think they do), this is the hot and poppin' New Year's Eve Zone on our planet, bigger than the zone that transects Western Europe and Africa, bigger than anything in the Americas.

For Those Who Don't Go Out on New Year's...

But maybe you're the quiet type. Maybe you don't like a lot of noise and merry making on what is a purely odometer-like occasion. And maybe you are looking for a time zone that is next to empty where there's nobody around to irritate you. Well, I think we've got a zone for you.

This zone is two zones west of the Greenwich meridian. It is mostly empty ocean.

Yes, it does contain a hunk of Greenland, a bit of Brazil, and a few Atlantic islands (the Azores) but all those places have chosen — and passed laws, attaching themselves to other time zones. They've opted out. So not a lot of people live in this zone's time. It's a vast stretch of uninhabited Atlantic, populated only by fish and whales who don't have, I presume, a special feel for Decembers or Januaries or clocks or midnights. It does, down near Antarctica, include two little dots of land: the South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, but they don't, either of them, have many inhabitants. One website I looked at estimates a research population of about 24 people, in the summer months (which is around now).

No Need For Velvet Ropes

Meaning, if you invited everybody in this time zone (not including transient boat traffic, penguins or seals), the biggest crowd you could hope for is two dozen people.

So there you have it, two very different zones for different temperaments. And the differences aren't trivial: 1.5 billion people here, 24 people there.

That's the Chinese advantage over South Sandwich Island. Their zone has 62.5 million times more people. But here's the South Sandwich advantage (for shy people): their zone is 62.5 million times less crowded. Whichever way you like it, happy New Year!

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