AS THE clock strikes midnight on January 1st 2018, revellers on the easternmost islands of Kiribati will be the first people on dry land to ring in the new year—a claim made possible by their location in the Pacific Ocean and an arbitrary designation of time zones. Those living in Hawaii, which lies at roughly the same longitude, will need to wait another 24 hours to see off 2017. And a bit farther westward, party-goers in American Samoa will be the very last to welcome midnight a full hour later. (Had Baker Island and Howland Island, two nominally American territories, not been left uninhabited since the second world war, their residents could have made this claim one hour later still.)

A greater new-year boast is perhaps not of being the first or last time zone to celebrate, but having the most inhabitants to do so simultaneously. That honour goes to the +8 hours co-ordinated universal time zone (known as UTC), which, with over 1.6bn inhabitants, is home to more people than any other (see map). This is mainly because of China, which is not only the world’s most populous country but also one of the few longitudinally broad ones to use a single time zone (three would be more suitable). Many Chinese, however, are unaccustomed to the Western new-year tradition—they have their own new year to look forward to, and it won’t come until February.

China’s time zone is closely followed by the one used by India—a country not quite so wide as China but nearly as populous. India’s unusual +5.5 hours UTC time zone splits the difference between the two into which its territory would more naturally fall. Wending westward, the next-biggest time zones are +1 hour UTC, which includes most of western Europe and much of Africa; +3 hours UTC, comprising eastern Europe, the Middle East and eastern Africa; and -5 hours UTC, housing swathes of North and South America. Collectively, these five time zones account for two-thirds of the world’s population, and for a disproportionate amount of the globe’s new-year merriment.