Y2K doom-and-gloomers were predicting widespread computer collapse. Otherwise level-headed folks were unplugging their PCs and stuffing their mattresses with cash. Survivalists were stockpiling food. Religious millennialists were on the edge of their seats, watching for signs, spaceships, and Jesus Christ himself. Heck, even parties were canceled.
But experts have always said that the real third millennium begins in 2001. So anticipation must be even greater this year, right?
Yawn. Millennium? What millennium?
"There are literally no believers, as far as I know, saying that anything in particular will happen in 2001," says Ted Daniels, who is in a position to know. He runs the Millennium Watch Institute, an organization dedicated to gathering information about groups expecting radical global change.
Daniels and other millennium watchers, including Richard Landes of Boston University, say last year's anti-climax may have led many groups to lower their expectations about millennial change--or at least to keep quiet about them. On the record, no one's expecting the world to collapse as the bells toll this New Year's Eve.
"If they are," says Landes, "they're not telling us about it."
Landes, a medieval historian, is director of his school's Center for Millennial Studies, which holds conferences, archives material, and serves as a resource for law enforcement officials, the media and others curious about the activities of millennial movements.
The end may not be nigh, but plenty of groups haven't given up hope.
"Just because we're not hearing anything right now, that doesn't mean this sort of religious pattern has gone away. It's been around at least 2,000 years," says Catherine Wessinger, a professor of religious studies at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Hal Lindsey, an evangelist and author of "The Late Great Planet Earth," published in 1970, has been expecting Christ's return for decades. The book detailed how world events corresponded with biblical prophecy, a practice he continues today on his website, HalLindseyOracle.com, and in his newsletter, "The Last Days Chronicle."
Harpazo, from the Greek word for "to seize upon with force," is usually translated in English as "rapture," the event described in the New Testament book of Thessalonians (and in the Christian best-selling "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry P. Jenkins) when the righteous will be suddenly and dramatically drawn into Heaven.
According to Landes and other religious historians, one need not expect Christ to come in 2001--or 3001, for that matter--to be a "millennialist." Scholars consider any group expecting a dramatic or cataclysmic change to be millennialist, a term inspired by a reference in the New Testament book of Revelation to a 1,000-year peace that would be linked to the second coming of Christ.
Millennialists don't have to be Christian, either.
Numerous UFO groups expect salvation to come from space, including the California-based Unarius Academy of Science, one of the few groups openly awaiting a new era in 2001. The group's founder, who died in 1993, predicted that "Space Brothers" would land their ship outside El Cajon, Calif., next year. "Their mission is one of peace and friendship," says a statement on the group's website, Unarius.org, "their intention is to invite planet Earth to become the 33rd member of the restored brotherhood of terrestrial planets located within the Milky Way Galaxy!"
There are also Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Chinese, and New Age millennial movements, scholars say, as well as secular movements that predict the world to end in nuclear holocaust or environmental collapse.
Wessinger and Landes expect to see an increase in millennial fervor as the 21st century moves forward. Rapid change--including modernization, globalization, and technological advancements--causes anxiety and often stimulates millennial ideas, Landes says.
Although this may be a quiet New Year's Eve, it probably won't dash the hopes of many Christian millennialists. Brad Verter, an associate professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who has taught a course on millennialism, notes that the New Testament warns that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
The gospel of Mark contains a similar caution: "(K)eep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly" (Mark 13:35-6).
In other words: When you least expect it, expect it.
After the hoopla of Y2K, however, just don't expect too many people to set a date for it.
There's a certain "faddishness of apocalyptic angst, that you have the whole culture in a turmoil and by the next year everyone's forgotten it," Verter says. Millennialists "know it's going to happen. My guess it's made them more humble about fixing precise dates, because they know our dating conventions are imperfect."