Regular readers of this column knew I'd come around to asking this question before the year was out, kind of like how we all eventually get around to looking at the stuff that's crammed into the backs of our refrigerators. I know, I know. I should just let it go, but what fun would that be? So here goes:

Why is absolutely no one publicizing the fact that a new century and millennium are about to begin on Jan. 1? Where are the all-day-long network television specials that ought to be scheduled for New Year's Eve? Where are the end-of-the-millennium furniture sales? Where are the top 10 lists? Where are the annoying little clocks that count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds?

I have found one reference — only one, mind you — in the media about the impending event, and that was a sarcastic one. American Heritage magazine, in its December issue, published a short piece in its History Now section about this important milestone. It included this gem:

"To put it all in perspective, 'History Now' takes a look back at the last time America celebrated the end of a century — in 1999." What followed was a quick summary of what we all were doing a year ago. It was a delicious bit of humor for those of us who had to suffer through the hype.

I snickered last year when editors across this vast continent labored over microfilm machines and reported that, oddly, our forebears did virtually nothing official in the newspapers of 1899 to note the coming of the 20th century. Had they picked up the next spool, marked "1900," and searched toward the end of that year, they would have found plenty. I know because I did. Here is the description of what happened in downtown Salt Lake City on Dec. 31, 1900, as reported by the Deseret News:

" . . . when the clock in the city and county building chimed the midnight hour . . . the greeting that passed cheerily around was, 'Wish you many happy returns of the century.' "

Maybe they were onto something, because for those of you who have had to live near people like me, the 20th century has kept returning and returning all this year.

I'll go over this one more time. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, a guy named Dionysius Exiguus introduced the anno Domini, or "year of our Lord" dating system. At the time, the concept of zero did not exist. Therefore, he decided Christ was born in 1 AD, not zero. Because of that, new centuries forever more begin in the year that ends 01. It's not a difficult concept to understand, really.

What I'm trying to do here is evoke a sense of fairness. In the spirit of Al Gore, I don't want to officially leave this turn-of-the-century era until there is a full and fair accounting of all our votes on the matter, even from those who were confused about the ballot. We who understand when a century begins humored the rest of you last year. We whooped it up on New Year's Eve and worked ourselves up by rationalizing that, hey, it's kind of fun to watch four digits change all at once at midnight. That had to be worth some kind of celebration, right? And those fireworks exploding out of the Eiffel Tower, that was worth taping and watching all over again a year later, don't you think?

Well, how about humoring us pedantic, nit-picking types this year? After all, what's so bad about having another jolly good time? Not to be snide or anything, but the folks who thought last year was the start of a new century probably aren't sticklers for details, so doing it all over again a year later shouldn't overload them with any, um, concerns about being intellectually compromised. A party is a party, right?

It isn't like Americans to ignore an obvious opportunity to make a buck or to have a party. Merchants ought to at least acknowledge the eggheads by holding a few sales. We may not traditionally be free with our wallets, but that may be because no marketer has ever really targeted us before.

And look at it this way: This time we can all celebrate without any worries that the computer will bring an end to civilization as we know it at the stroke of midnight. Talk about a downer. How fun was it, really, to keep running from the party every couple of minutes to reboot? Really let your hair down, didn't you?

I know, I know. I should just let it go. As you probably guessed, I have a hard time staying up until midnight, anyway.


Deseret News editorial page editor Jay Evensen may be e-mailed at even@desnews.com