APIA, Samoa – The tiny South Pacific nation of Samoa and its neighbor Tokelau will jump forward in time today, shifting to the Asian side of the international date line to align themselves with their other 21st century trading partners throughout the region.
At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 29, time in Samoa and Tokelau will leap forward to Dec. 31 – New Year’s Eve. For Samoa’s 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 in Tokelau, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, will simply cease to exist.
The time jump back to the future comes 119 years after some U.S. traders persuaded local Samoan authorities to align their islands’ time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. 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 neighboring Australia and New Zealand, increasingly important trading partners.
In a bid to remedy that, the Samoan government passed a law in June that will 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 scheduled to work on the nonexistent Friday will be given full pay for the missed day of labor.
The time shift will be marked by the ringing of church bells across Samoa’s two main islands, and prayer services in all the main churches of the devoutly Christian nation.
Nearby Tokelau, a three-atoll United Nations dependency, said it will join its neighbor in the date line dance to maintain its alignment with Samoa, three sailing days away, where its administration is based.