Today is January 1st 2009 by the calendar used by many Western nations. January 26th will be the beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Ox signifying prosperity through fortitude and hard work, a good year to be born for would-be Chinese entrepreneurs. That used to be the way people became prosperous here. Now of course they do it by cheating, lying and lobbying. But it isn’t the year 2009 for the Chinese. They are not a young country. For them it’s the year 4710.
I thought it might be a good idea to do a little work on this topic. I write a lot about how our lives are run by our unexamined assumptions, and it’s clear that many people here think that the whole world runs on the same calendar as Washington DC, their own centre of the world.
You probably still remember the fuss we endured about the new millennium. All it really did was tell us the very important fact that what is accepted as true becomes true only by consensus. People act according to tradition, not fact or accuracy. Reality is based on agreement, not fact.
While we were having our enormous publicity here about Y2K and its perils the famous National Public Radio reporter Sylvia Porgioli who was in Italy at the time, went around Rome asking people their opinions about Y2K. She tried many people, but nobody had even heard of it. Compare that reaction in a city thousands of years old to that of the people in New York, which a very short time ago historically was New Amsterdam, and many New Yorkers don’t know that either. Rome has slow food restaurants. New York has fast food restaurants. There may be dots to connect there, like family values.
Here, we weren’t allowed to forget Y2K, because fear and doubt can be manipulated to make lots of money, or even begin profitable wars. But let's look at a few other points of view about the millennium, now in its eighth or ninth year, depending on your taste in calendars.
For the Jews in our 2009 their year begins on Rosh Hashanah Sept 18th. It will be their year 5770. You can see how it all began in one of the easiest Bible references to remember, Lev. 23: 24-25. Their 2009 year anniversary passed without a fuss in our year 1751 B.C.
For my favorite Chinese restaurant up the street, the New Year comes as usual on the second New Moon after the winter solstice. As I said above it is the year 4710. For Korean, Vietnamese and Mongolian restaurants the same thing applies. Drop them a card if you are a regular.
And for those stuck on the importance of their own birthdays just note that in China, on the seventh day of the New Year everyone becomes one year older. It’s called the Birthday of the Common Man. Teenagers of fifteen waiting for a driver’s license note the advantages of becoming Chinese for a short time.
India, with the help of Mahatma Gandhi, and without the help of an army of terrorists, gained independence from the tyranny of Britain in 1947. They adopted a new calendar in 1957. To the modern Indians it will be the year 1933 on March 27th this year.
The Islamic lunar calendar began in the year when Mahomet and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina to avoid persecution. The date varies from year to year because it is based on a lunar year of 354 days. So it tends to get earlier every year in a complex cycle. For Moslems then, this year is 1431. But in our year 2008 the Muslim calendar had two New Years because the 11 day difference has been accumulating. This year in our 2009 the Muslim New Year begins on December 18th.
Those who love the Sufi poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam may not know that he was famous among scientists as a fine mathematician. He discovered the Binomial Theorem, and much else in Al-Gebra as it was then called. His calendar is used by Iranians and many Central Asian folks. Their next New Year is on the spring equinox, as ours used to be. It will be their year 1390.
Let’s not forget those who use the date of the birth of the Buddha as their starting point. To these Buddhists the New Year will be 2555 on the first full moon in April, which is on the 9th.
The Tibetans will have their New Year beginning on January 27th.
The most recent religious calendar I know of is the Baha’i calendar, that began when the founder, Bab announced the new religion. So their New Year will be 169, celebrated at the Spring Equinox March 21st.
For followers of the multi-talented magician Crowley their Thelemic New Year will begin with an invocation to Ra-Hoor-Khuit celebrating the New Aeon, which began in 1904, so in their calendar it will be the year 105.
The Celtic New Year always begins at sunset on October 31st, Hallowe’en. Goddess alone knows how many thousands of years ago that started.
The furious squabbles we had here about whether 2000 or 2001 was the REAL millennium may seem even more absurd now than they did at the time. How could there be a problem about that anyway? The story should be better known by the debaters and wranglers over nothing.
In the year 1278 by our current calendar, the then Pope, John 1st asked a respected scholar, Dennis Exiguus, to come up with a calendar based on the birth of Jesus. The problem was that NOBODY knew when Jesus was born, (this is still true, though now we also have IF he was born as an option) but as it was an order from the Pope he had to do something. So he worked with the politically correct gospels prepared at the order of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, the ones we use now, and added in a bit of astrology, and came up with December 25th 753 A.U.C.
The initials A.U.C. may be new to you, but then it meant the calendar used by all Christians. The initials mean Ab Urbe Condita…from the founding of the City, which of course was Rome. Theoretically then, December 25th should have been the first day of the year. Dennis however started it on January 1st because it was near the Feast of Circumcision, the 8th day in the life of a Jewish boy.
He also had in mind the fact that Julius Caesar had changed the date of the start of the Roman year from March 21st to January 1st as a political trick to ensure the Senate financing of his Spanish campaign.
Dennis then compounded the problem of accuracy by naming his first year as 1 A.D. Anno Domini, the year of the Lord. So the then current year became 525 A.D. He was not a Hindu mathematician, and did this work before their zero was known to the West. Dennis could not think of a year 0 A.D. because he didn’t have a zero in his mathematics. So what we CAN think affects what we DO think.
As an analogy, here in the West a baby is one year old, a year after the day of birth. In Japan, a baby is nine months old the day it is born. Unexamined convention blinds the mind to alternative ways of thinking.
So, what happened to the calendar of Dennis? Nothing! It wasn’t until the Synod of Whitby in 664 that the A.D. calendar was adopted officially. And even then it wasn’t used much until the great theologian Baeda, The Venerable Bede, used it in one of his history books. That was in the 8th century. He died in 735. The book was widely copied and people started using A.D. numbers.
The A.D. system was called universal at the Synod of Chelsea in 816, but many Catholic countries didn’t use it until the 12th century. Non-Catholic countries like Britain hung in there until 1752. Commercial China didn’t come into the A.D. fold until 1911.
Well, how about the accuracy of the calendar of Dennis? There are two fundamental flaws in his calendar. He started with year 1. Therefore there was a year missing from his time line. And the second error was in the birth year of Jesus. He was born, according to Holy Writ, in the time of Herod the King. Since we now know for sure that Herod died in 4 B.C. that squashes any hope of accuracy.
Moreover, the December 25th date was already the birthday of many of the vegetation gods of the Mediterranean area. All of them were sacrificed and many were buried and rose again from the dead after three days. So it would make sense for the Early Christians to keep their feast at the same time, and hide from possible persecution among the other festivities.
As hinted before, we can’t blame Dennis. In the 6th century the Western world didn’t even have the concept of zero in their mathematics. It was a Hindu genius who used it as a place marker, and Arabic mathematicians who used it in their al-gebra, which they invented.
Humans have very short life spans compared with many trees, and tend to think, like teenagers, that everything in their lives has always been so. And as this quick romp through the totally arbitrary decisions of theologians shows, It ain’t necessarily so.
Rather like the annotations of Archbishop Ussher in the Oxford Bible, that pegged the day of Creation in October 4004 B.C and gave some fundamentalists the basis for their totally absurd notions about geology and archaeology. As the English historians say…they have mistaken the archaic for the eternal. Invincible ignorance rules.
Our assumptions can also rule our short lives unless we make a deliberate effort to get out of the box they form around us. One reason people used to take the European Tour, was to live among other cultures, languages, histories, and to realize that their home grown stuff was not universal. It was to broaden their minds. Make them liberals in the old sense of the word.
But then of course they didn’t need passports or security checks. Any gold or silver coin was accepted everywhere. Times change. But for your own sake shake loose this year. Get out of your comfort zone. Break the box of the conventions you have never examined. Have a NEW Year instead of just another same old, same old, and Happy Trails to you.