APIA–Samoans celebrated in the streets at midnight Thursday when, with a song, a prayer and the ringing of bells, they wiped Friday off the calendar this week in a historic leap across the dateline.
The midnight switch from Thursday, December 29 to Saturday, December 31 brought the Pacific island nation in line with its main trading partners Australia and New Zealand who had been a day ahead.
People crowded into the capital Apia to be photographed near the town clock on the stroke of midnight as the seamless transition across the dateline went without a hitch.
“Tonight is a momentous and noteworthy occasion that will be documented and recorded in the history of Samoa,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said a speech marking the change.
He said alignment with Australia and New Zealand could only benefit Samoa, allowing direct trade five days a week with the regional powerhouses which are also home to large expatriate Samoan communities.
As the bells chimed on the stroke of midnight, car horns blared and people clapped and cheered.
“There were a lot of parties. People were excited about it. There was a massive turnout in the town,” Cherelle Jackson told AFP.
“People I talked to were partying because it was something different.”
At the popular Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort and Spa events manager Greg Meredith said holiday life went on as normal for guests
“There haven’t been any problems,” he said.
“We advised our guests well in advance and they knew what was happening,” he added, giving an assurance that guests who had booked through to Saturday or longer would not be paying for the Friday that never was.
However, the government has issued an edict that hotels, like all other businesses and the civil service in Samoa would have to pay staff for the non-existent Friday.
Air New Zealand said the loss of Friday in Samoa was well known and did not affect airline schedules.
In the countdown to midnight Thursday, Tuilaepa and other dignitaries gathered at the government prayer house, Mount Vaea, to usher in the change with an hour-long ceremony involving carols, prayers and speeches.
In addition to business benefits, Tuilaepa also sees tourism opportunities with the prospect of double celebrations in Samoa and neighbouring American Samoa, a mere 77 miles (125 kilometres) away and still east of the dateline.
“So you can have two birthdays, two weddings and two wedding anniversaries on the same date — on separate days — in less than an hour’s flight across — without leaving the Samoan chain,” he said.
Samoa’s move forward to align with its trading partners is in effect a 119-year leap backwards, reversing a change made in 1892.
Then, it went from west to east of the dateline to align itself with the United States and Europe, its key markets at the time.
Tuilaepa has already introduced changes to bring Samoa into line with Australia and New Zealand, enacting a law in 2009 that meant cars switched to driving on the left-hand side of the road, rather than the right.
Samoan businesses have welcomed the latest move and the additional exposure it will give them in New Zealand and Australia, as well as their developing interest in Asian markets.
“A lot of the business we deal with is in New Zealand or Australia and the fact we are now exploring the Asian market so this change imposed by the government is fully endorsed,” Chamber of Commerce president Namulauulu Sami Leota told Television New Zealand.