FIREWORKS exploded over Samoa as the South Pacific nation jumped forward in time, crossing westward over the international date line and effectively erasing Friday, December 30, 2011, from the country’s calendar.
Samoans who had gathered around the main clock tower in the capital Apia cheered as the clock struck midnight on Thursday, December 29, instantly transporting the country 24 hours ahead to Saturday, December 31.
The switch, also being observed by neighbouring Tokelau, is meant to align the islands’ time with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region. The time jump means Samoa’s 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 in the three-atoll United Nations dependency of Tokelau, will be the first in the world to ring in the new year, rather than the last.
As part of the celebrations, police, ambulance and fire truck sirens wailed throughout Apia to signal the change. Drivers blared their horns and prayer services were held across the country.
The date line dance comes 119 years after a group of US traders persuaded local Samoan authorities to align their islands’ time with nearby US-controlled American Samoa and the US to assist their trading with California. But the time zone has proved problematic in recent years, putting Samoa and Tokelau nearly a full day behind neighbouring Australia and New Zealand, increasingly important trading partners.
In June, the Samoan government passed a law to move Samoa west of the international date line, which separates one calendar day from the next and runs roughly north-to-south through the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Under a government decree, all those due to work on the non-existent Friday will be given full pay for the missed day of labour.