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WHEN:   Saturday October 9, 2-4 pm
WHERE: "Glenferny", 24 Moana Rd, Days Bay, Eastbourne

Her Excellency Mary, Lady Hardie Boys
at the Eastbourne Bi-Millennium Festival
Garden Party, "Glenferny", 9 October 1999

By the time my husband's term of office ends, we shall have been absent from the Bay for almost as long as we were residents.  But we know it as a very special place, sufficiently far away from the city to be close enough, with its own special community, as this party and this Festival so happily prove.

The countdown clock on the Embassy Theatre in Courtenay Place tells us that there are 82 more days to the Millennium.  That countdown is typical of the hype that the coming dawn of the next century is producing.  I'm not sure that they are bothering much about it in places like China and Iran.  But in places like New Zealand, we are planning celebrations on a grand scale, with parties and fireworks, and here and there something of lasting worth.

We're not averse to a good party, but what intrigues us is that hardly ever is there a mention of what it is we are actually celebrating.  After all, on 1 January 2000, the sun will rise exactly as it has done every other day since the dawn of time.  And although there is great rejoicing if one of us manages to reach a century, in cosmological terms, 2,000 years is but an evening gone.  And it's not 2,000 years of human history either, or even of the civilisations of which we are inheritors:  we go back twice that far at least.

No, what we in New Zealand are actually celebrating is 2,000 years of Christianity, 2,000 years since the beginning of the year immediately following the date a 6th century monk calculated to have been the date Jesus Christ was born.  He fixed the actual date as 25 December in the 753rd year after the founding of Rome, which was how the calendar ran then.  He was actually three or four years out, because Jesus was probably born in the year 4 BC; but that incongruity worried no-one at the time because it was only some hundreds of years later that the AD-BC terminology was adopted throughout Christian Europe; and has now become so commonplace that many people have little or no idea what it really signifies.  The fact that Christmas celebrates the birth is still regularly within the general consciousness, but that the calendar runs from its supposed date is not.

And so I congratulate the organisers of the Eastbourne Bi-Millennium Festival for drawing attention to the facts behind the dates, and for doing it in such an interesting and imaginative way.  Not only are so few aware of the true significance of the year 2000, but there is also a general unawareness of the extent to which civilisation as we know it has been moulded by the Christian spirit over that time.  But this Festival is pointing that out in music and debate, by looking at the history of art, by lectures from renowned scholars.  And in this way, you are making it clear too, that the truths of the faith that have inspired men and women for 2,000 years remain as relevant and as inspiring for the third millennium.

So again, congratulations.  It's a pleasure to be with you.  Have a good party and a great Festival.