The social calendar for the end of the millennium--which is currently booked with lavish New Year's Eve bashes, assorted UFO invasions and, on a less cheery note, forecasts for the fiery destruction of the entire planet--is about to get a little more crowded.
From Vatican City to Anaheim Hills, plans are afoot for the biggest blowout Christmas celebration the world has ever seen:
* A Northern California businessman is organizing a re-enactment of the journey of the Magi, complete with camels, horses and a Three Wise Men visitors center and planetarium in Bethlehem.
* Pope John Paul II has called for a series of reflections and ceremonies leading to the year 2000, when he hopes to travel through the Holy Land and pray atop Mt. Sinai with Jewish and Muslim clerics.
* Crystal Cathedral pastor Robert Schuller and Van Nuys radio minister Jack Hayford have signed up to conduct a 1996 birthday extravaganza in Jerusalem, including a bus trek to the spot where Jesus fed the 5,000--but this time with box lunches of loaves and fish for the crowd. (The reason for the 1996 date is scholarly research indicating Christ was actually born in 4 BC.)
* A multimedia Jesus stadium show--featuring orchestras, choirs, special effects and gargantuan slide presentations--is being assembled by impresario David Pecoraro of Anaheim Hills for a 1999-2001 world tour. The project was started by the late Bob Jani, a Walt Disney producer whose credits include several Super Bowl halftime shows and the Magic Kingdom's Main Street Electrical Parade. Before his death six years ago, Jani collected 50,000 slides depicting the life of Christ for this "Biblical Art Masterworks" production.
* Other Christians have proposed Jesus block parties, special charity drives and global prayer vigils.
"No one would let their grandmother's 100th birthday go by without a tremendous celebration," says author Jay Gary. "So we shouldn't let the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus pass without giving him a magnificent tribute."
Gary, 40, a Colorado consultant who refers to himself as "the Millennium Doctor," is top cheerleader for a turn-of-the-century Christmas spectacular. He has written a book ("The Star of 2000"), cranked out press releases and created an Internet forum to promote the idea.
"You would never have heard of the Beatles without Brian Epstein," he says. And, as the year 2000 approaches, "even a superstar like Jesus Christ is in need of an advance man."
Gary's aim is to make sure that secular celebrations and doomsday predictions don't overshadow the bimillennial's spiritual significance. So far, however, most of the attention paid to 2000 revolves around Dec. 31, not Dec. 25.
Indeed, AD 2000 (or, more accurately, AD 2001) will mark the first time in history that a change of centuries can be observed by the entire world. That's partly because of such technological advances as satellite television and quartz clocks, and partly because the now-universal Gregorian calendar wasn't adopted by China, Russia and Turkey until after 1900 (even Britain and America used a different system before 1752).
Such an occasion, says humorist Lewis Grossberger of the New York Times, deserves "all the grandiosity, excess and overkill that we can muster. . . . We'll need the greatest procession of tall ships ever. I propose manning them with short sailors, to make them seem even taller. . . . We'll (also) need . . . commercial tie-ins. For instance, which brand of diet soda, light beer or wine cooler will be the Official Drink of the Millennium?"
Gary, a Baptist, sees plenty of room for non-religious commemorations, so long as Jesus also gets to take a bow. This is the most influential figure in history, he notes: Time magazine should drop its annual Man of the Year cover in favor of a Man of the Millennium. Without Christ (and here he cites an "It's a Wonderful Life"-type book called "What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?"), music, art, philosophy, science, universities--all would be unimaginably different.
So, how best to salute his birthday?
Last June, the Pope convened a meeting of cardinals to consider that question, and later issued a 16,000-word letter outlining church plans. For Christmas, 1999, the pontiff will use a golden hammer to open a sealed bronze door at St. Peter's Basilica, inaugurating a great jubilee year of observances, pilgrimages and ecumenical meetings.
The Pope also urged Catholics--as individuals and as church--to reflect on and repent of "past errors . . . slowness to act . . . intolerance and the use of violence in the service of truth" before "crossing the threshold of the new millennium."