Kiribati Flag

Which Is The First Place To Experience New Year's Eve?

Oceania's small Pacific island nation of Kiribati celebrates New Year's Eve before anyone else on Earth. The Republic's easternmost Line Islands ring in the new year first, followed by the central Phoenix Islands and the western Gilbert Islands, with an hour's difference between each. 

Why New Year's Eve Is First Celebrated In Kiribati?

The world does not have one single time zone but has been divided into 24 main time zones with the Universal Time Coordinated or UTC ((where Greenwich Mean Time = UTC+00:00) chosen as the standard. It corresponds to the time at places along the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude). The time changes by plus or minus one hour corresponding with every 15 degrees east or west of the Prime Meridian respectively. On the opposite side of the Earth, the International Date Line (IDL) passes through the mid-Pacific Ocean at about 180 degrees longitude from north to south. The IDL serves as the boundary between one calendar day and the next. Hence, two locations relatively close to each other on the world map will have significant time differences if split by the IDL and all places on Earth cannot celebrate New Year simultaneously.

International Date Line
The International Date Line passing through the Pacific Ocean with Kiribati to the west.

Kiribati is a widely scattered island nation in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, covering 811 sq. km (313 sq mi) of land over 33 atolls and coral islands. The chain of islands that make up Kiribati straddles both the Equator and the 180th meridian making it the only country to cover all four hemispheres of the Earth. The International Date Line borders Kiribati to the east with the easternmost island group of the country, the Line Islands, being the first to celebrate the New Year's eve.

History Of January 1 As New Year’s Day

The New Year was first celebrated on January 1, 153 BCE, in Rome as per the Roman civil calendar, marking the beginning of the tenure of new Roman consuls. However, the celebration was not strictly adhered to, as many Romans still celebrated their new year on March 1. In 46 BCE Julius Caesar started using a solar-based calendar which maintained January 1 as the New Year's day and was widely adopted in the Roman Empire. In medieval Europe, January 1 as the New Year was briefly abolished as it was considered a pagan holiday. January 1 was later restored as the New Year following the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582.

christmas island kiribati
Aerial view of Christmas Island in Kiribati.

Kiritimati, the "Christmas Island"

Kiritimati is the world's largest coral atoll covering 384.4 square kilometers and accounting for 70% of the total land area of Kiribati. Kiritimati Atoll is part of the Northern Line Islands with the world's farthest-forward time zone of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +14. It experiences New Year's Eve before many others in Kiribati. Kiritimati is the Gilbertese spelling for Christmas, with the aptly-nicknamed "Christmas Island" also celebrating the birth of the Lord first. 

Celebrations In Kiribati

New Year's Day is a public holiday in Kiribati with no school or work for the general population, and most businesses stay shut. A boisterous Christmas period leads up to New Year's Eve with traditional singing and dancing throughout the holiday season. For Christmas, locals go to church, sing in the choir, gather at dinners with friends and family, and exchange gifts and merriment. They also like to get active during the holidays through sports with various competitions, games, and canoe racing, while others go camping in Taiwan Park and visit nearby islands.

Church in South Tarawa, Kiribati
A church in South Tarawa, Kiribati.

Kiribati's locals count down to the New Year across low-key beach parties, favorite bars, and some downtown squares. Guesthouses and expat bars hold the most-varied events, often with tourists in mind, as opposed to local bars, the local maneaba (meeting house), with more traditional celebrations. 

Visiting Kiribati During The Holiday Season

Christmas Island becomes a tourist destination during this time, with many wishing to celebrate New Year's Eve first on Earth. Kiritimati is home to a tropical scape and climate, with temperatures ranging from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. Like locals, tourists also enjoy an eclectic choice of outdoor activities during the holidays, such as golf, scuba diving and snorkeling around the reefs, bird watching, and deep-sea fishing. 

Aerial view of an island in Kiribati with white beach, homes, and palm trees.

Among other big festivals and celebrations, Kiribati's biggest annual celebration takes place on July 12, Independence Day, in week-long festivities like parades, beauty pageants, and dancing that start prior to and climax on the official date in the capital of South Tarawa. There is also National Youth Day on August 10, when young adults have the floor to brainstorm solutions and voice innovative ideas regarding challenges the country faces in the imminent future.

Although some think that the huge, coterminous "Land Down Under" gets the honor of experiencing New Year's Eve first, while it is only 9 pm in Sydney, Australia, it is midnight (UTC+14) on New Year's Day in Kiritimati, Kiribati. There are various cultural festivities before, during, and after the calendar turns page around the date. 

Sadly, Kiribati's islands are sinking at unprecedented rates, and the first place to experience the rising sun of the New Year, is due to disappear under the rising sea by the end of the century. 


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