The Pacific island nation of Samoa and parts of Kiribati were the first places in the world to welcome 2021, leaving behind a year which was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on society. It takes 26 hours for all time zones to reach the new year.
Samoa and parts of Kiribati are in the world’s farthest forward timezone, which is 14 hours ahead of UTC, putting them at the same time as Hawaii except the date is one day ahead. This means that when it turned Friday in Samoa and Kiribati, it was still Wednesday in places like American Samoa.
Kiritimati, which is part of Kiribati and which is also known as Christmas Island, is perhaps the best known among the two. Kiritimati, home to nearly 6,500 people, used to be one of the last places to welcome the new year until it skipped a day in 1994 to use being first as a tourist draw.
For the 9th time, people in Samoa were also among the first people in the world to welcome the new year. The country changed its timezone at the end of 2011 by moving to the west of the International Date Line to make it easier to do business with Australia and New Zealand.
The unique group of countries lost a member in 2017 when Tonga ended daylight savings time after just one year. Tonga also observed daylight savings time from 1999 until 2002, a move that was sparked by its desire to be among the first countries to welcome the new millennium.
New Zealand’s Chatham Islands and its nearly 700 people hit midnight just 15 minutes after Samoa and Kiritimati, making it the second-earliest place on Earth. The first major city to welcome the new year is Auckland in New Zealand at 1100 GMT (6 a.m. ET), along with Fiji, Tonga, and parts of Antarctica.
But perhaps the most unique way to welcome the new year is aboard the International Space Station, where astronauts have 15 opportunities to celebrate as they circle the globe at 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 km/h). The official time at the space station, however, is in UTC or GMT.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that many New Year’s Eve events have been canceled. One of the biggest events in the world will be taking place in Sydney, where a massive fireworks display will take place over the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Another major event will take place at the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.