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Ian Bowie

'To find a date in the Hebrew calendar add 3760 to the Gregorian one.'

When is a New Year not a New Year?
At first this might seem like a rather strange question until you consider that to many millions of people around the world the 1st of January did not signify the beginning of a new year at all. The Chinese celebrate New Year on the 5th of February with celebrations lasting a grand total of fifteen days. The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) over two days usually in September. The exact dates change as the New Year falls on the first and second days of the seventh month according to the Jewish calendar. Most confusing of all the New Year falls on a different date every year for followers of the Islamic calendar. To find out why read on.

The need for a calendar came about when people finally realised that nature had a regular cycle of seasons. These seasons governed their lives in terms of the provision of food and so they developed a system for measuring and recording the passage of time in order to help them prepare for the hardships of winter. The most reliable system for doing this was to follow the cycles of the sun and the moon. That is why today the most commonly used calendars follow either the lunar or the solar cycle.

The calendar we are most familiar with is the Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII who developed it in the 1580’s to correct the Julian calendar put into effect in 46B.C. by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar is based on the year marking the birth of Jesus Christ. Many people refer to dates before that year as B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. anno Domini (in the year of our Lord). Some people - especially non-Christians - write B.C.E. for before Common Era or before Christian era and C.E. for Common Era or Christian era. Unlike the Islamic or Hebrew calendar the Gregorian calendar follows the solar cycle and is 26.3 seconds longer than a solar year.

The Islamic calendar begins with the flight Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina. This flight is called Hegira and happened, according to the Gregorian calendar in A.D. 622. The Islamic calendar is twelve months long with each month alternately 30 or 29 days long with a year having 354 days in total. Because of this an Islamic year moves backwards through the seasons and moves completely backwards every 32.5 years also meaning the Islamic New Year falls on a different date each time.
The Hebrew calendar begins at the estimated time the world was created 3760 years and 3 months before the birth of Jesus Christ. To find a date in the Hebrew calendar add 3760 to the Gregorian one. However the Hebrew calendar begins in September or October meaning it does not exactly follow the Gregorian. The year 2000 was the year 5760 in Hebrew but 5761 actually began in September of the same year. Pretty confusing stuff.

It may come as no surprise to some of you that the oldest chronological record in history is Chinese. The Chinese calendar dates back to 2637 BC and revolves around cycles of sixty years made up of five times twelve cycles. We are now in the seventy eighth cycle which started in February 1984 and will end in February 2044. An animal represents each year, as there are twelve years in a cycle logically there are twelve animals. According to Chinese legend after Buddha had finished creating the world he invited all the animals to come and say goodbye to him before he ascended into heaven. The only animals to come are the twelve that now represent each year namely the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar.

For the time being I wish all users of the Gregorian calendar a happy and prosperous New Year. As for myself, I am considering the benefits of also using the Islamic, Hebrew and Chinese calendars together. Four New Year parties in a row, wow!!

© Ian Bowie 2002

PS 2002 will be the Year of the Horse (ed)

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