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What country turns midnight first?

As the Earth rotates on its axis, time zones around the world pass into a new day at different times. The question of which country is the first to see the New Year is an intriguing one. In this article, we will examine which time zone is the earliest to welcome January 1st and analyze which countries and territories fall into this time zone. We will also look at some other candidates for the first country to hit midnight and see how time zone conventions can complicate this question.

The Time Zone that Hits Midnight First

The first time zone to welcome the New Year is the AoE time zone. AoE stands for “Anywhere on Earth” and covers a number of islands in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The AoE time zone is 14 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This means that when it hits midnight AoE, it will be 2pm UTC.

The AoE time zone has no official name and goes by different descriptions, including GMT-14:00 or UTC-14:00. It spans across a wide area, covering Hawaii in the north and the Line Islands in the south. However, its status as an unofficial time zone means few permanently inhabit its time zone. Humans typically celebrate New Year’s Eve and midnight based on the time zone in which they are located.

The AoE time zone encompasses the following islands and territories:

  • Howland and Baker Islands
  • American Samoa
  • Jarvis Island
  • Kingman Reef
  • Palmyra Atoll

Of these islands, the only permanently inhabited place is American Samoa. As of 2018, it had a population of around 55,000 people. So while American Samoa falls into the first time zone to hit midnight, its small population means relatively few people ring in the New Year at the world’s earliest celebrating.

Other Candidates for First Midnight

While the AoE islands are the first to hit midnight by time zone, their sparse population and lack of major celebrations means other places vie to be the first to welcome the New Year in spirit.


Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, is a Pacific island that is part of the Republic of Kiribati. It has a population of over 5,000 and is located 1 hour behind the AoE time zone.

Kiritimati promotes itself as the first inhabited area to experience the New Year. Due to its larger population compared to the AoE islands, it has more sizable New Year’s Eve festivities.


The Polynesian island nation of Tonga lies directly west of the AoE time zone. However, it celebrates New Year’s Day before the AoE islands due to its location just west of the International Date Line.

Tonga rings in the New Year at 10am local time on December 31st. This corresponds to midnight in London. So while not technically the first inhabited land to hit midnight, Tonga celebrates before any other country.

Samoa and Tokelau

The island nations of Samoa and Tokelau also lay claim to celebrating New Year’s first. In 2011, Samoa officially moved across the International Date Line to align better with Australia and New Zealand. This switch meant Samoa now hits midnight before any other country, albeit only by one hour.

Nearby Tokelau made the same switch in 2012 to remain aligned with Samoa. So these two small Pacific nations ringing in the New Year immediately after the AoE islands.

How Time Zones Cause Complications

Determining the first country to celebrate midnight on New Year’s Eve is complicated by the nature of time zones and calendar conventions.

Time zones are a necessary invention to account for the Earth’s spherical shape. They divide the planet into 24 segments and assign each a standard time. But time zones also result in abstract divisions between places located in the same geographic area.

For example, the AoE islands are technically the first to hit midnight on January 1st. But these are remote, uninhabited islands. So while the date ticks over, no significant celebrations occur. Meanwhile, populous cities like Sydney, Tokyo, and Dubai ring in the New Year an hour or more later but host large public festivities.

There is also the question of whether midnight refers to 12 am or pm. Astronomically speaking, places east of the Prime Meridian experience the New Year before those to the west. But midnight by convention refers to the start of a new day, not midday. So midnight celebrations happen at 12 am local time, regardless of position relative to the Prime Meridian.

Finally, the International Date Line causes gaps between calendar days as it zigzags around countries and territories. This means the first inhabited place to cross into a new calendar day is not necessarily the same as the first to celebrate midnight on New Year’s Eve.


In conclusion, determining the first country to welcome the New Year is complicated by time zones, the International Date Line, and varying cultural conventions. The islands that fall into the AoE time zone are technically the first to hit midnight and cross into January 1st.

However, the sparse population of these uninhabited Pacific islands means the first major celebrations occur a little later in highly populated cities like Auckland and Sydney. Nearby Kiribati and Tonga also lay claim for early New Year’s festivities based on their proximity to the IDL and earlier midnight by time zone.

So while the AoE islands may mark the technical astronomical New Year, other places ring in the occasion through shared cultural experience and celebration.