Shortly after the Western New Year settles in, a new Lunar Year is celebrated in the Chinese tradition. The symbolic meaning of the Chinese New Year is analogous to that of the (Solar-based calendar) New Year in the Western World. It is likewise a time to start anew, a time to celebrate with friends and family, as well.
Differently from the Western New Year, however. but similarly to Carnival, Lent, Eastern and other Christian World holidays, the Chinese New Year enjoys no fixed Western calendar date (it falls on the second New Moon after the winter solstice). It is thus usually celebrated in January or February -- in other words, likewise varying from year to year. These variable date celebrations are all marked according to a Lunar-based (or Lunisolar-based) calendar.
In addition to being referred to by a number, the Chinese year is traditionally identified with a respective animal. For example, 2000 was the Year of the Dragon, whereas 2001, the Year of the Snake, to be followed by the Year of the Horse (2002), the year of the Sheep (2003), and so on, each animal symbolizing a number of properties. As an illustration, a Dragon Year is said to be one that brings Peace and Prosperity, an auspicious symbolism which has hopefully left its good mark – to Chinese and non-Chinese alike!
The year in which we are born thus also signals the animal under whose influence our life is to unfold, according to the Chinese tradition. This is somewhat comparable to the Zodiac signs and related tradition. Are you curious regarding the animal under whose influence you were born?
See here how you fare within the context of the Chinese calendar & related fauna.
The Ballets of the Spheres above (in which we can but take part) constitute man-independent phenomena. Calendars, in turn, are conventionally established by human beings, even though the cyclic basis of each calendar type lies in the movement of a celestial body (commonly the Sun or the Moon).
To a certain extent, calendars represent man's effort to interpret, in his own fragmentary way, the harmoniously orchestrated Celestial Dance that he can observe from and on his Planet. The chief practical reason for having a calendar is evidently the convenience of a dependable time marking system, which can play the role of a common denominator within a given group.
The calendar dictating the traditional New Year's celebrations on January first is typically referred to as the Western, Gregorian or Julian calendar (this last reference is the one to appear below). This calendar has conquered its dominating role in the West for a number of social, political, religious and economic reasons. Historically speaking, the Julian calendar was originally the Mesopotamian calendar, which was adopted by the Egyptians, later by the Greeks, then by the Romans ... and here we are!
In the last media-dominated decades, especially, holidays which are commercially significant have enjoyed extra focus. Thus, celebrations such as Valentine's Day now enjoy a fairly international nature. An increase in the number of events automatically anchoring, so to speak, a particular calendar may indirectly contribute to enhancing our tendency to take for granted the one calendar that we make use of.
But however fast-locked to the calendar we serve ourselves of we might feel, there is nothing intrinsic to this, or any calendar, that would make it an inevitable default choice, even though some ways of assessing the flow of time may objectively prove more practical than others.
As already mentioned, our calendars express our attempts to translate the Cosmic Dance into a practical, objective and reliable system that we can use to account for the passing of Time. The Earth, the Moon, the Sun, in their movement, as well as all other time-accounting procedures that we have resorted to along the ages, none commit us to this or any particular view and respective way of accounting for the passing of Time. The ideal calendar, in a way, would be the Universe, itself.
It is thus not surprising that the Human Race has enjoyed a good number of calendars, yielding a diversity of chronologies, world 'round. The laws of our universe don't change – only the way we understand them and translate them into human accessible coding.
Whatever the calendar we use, it is therefore conventionally established. A convention implies a human decision, based, of course, on observations made, and evidently on some logic or principle, as well, whatever their sort.
As seen above, the Chinese New Year's celebration does not coincide with the celebration of the Julian New Year. The Jewish New Year, the Islamic New Year, just to add a couple of examples, likewise do not coincide with the Julian New Year, nor do the number of years that these calendars account for (the Jewish community, for example, has long celebrated their 5th millennium).
As a token of curiosity, you may wish to check a page where both the Julian and the Islamic Calendars are shown in regard to each other. Click here to view this page. A more elaborate example, which you may also wish to check, is Paula Burch's Lunisolar Calendar. You can view her calendar for free on-line, and you can also purchase a printed copy of the 14 charts, if you'd like. Both examples are fully updated for 2003.
The Julian calendar is so called in reference to Julius Caesar. For it was Julius Caesar who decreed that, every four years, one day would be added to that year. This was the origin of the leap years, as we know them today.
The extra day added, every four years, aimed at making up for 1/4 of a day, which was lost every year (one year is approximately 365+1/4 days). One fourth of a day does not represent much; however, in a long succession of years, the difference can become significant.
Prior to Julius Caesar, the year had publicly been 360 days long in Ancient Egypt (possibly in analogy to the 360 degrees distance that the sun travels in one day). Despite the conventional 360 official days in their year, the Ancient Egyptians were already aware, at that time, that a year in reality comprised 365 days. The extra 5 days, though, were just declared non-existent, officially!
The Julian calendar worked very well until the 16th Century, when the seasons were noticeably out of alignment again. Then a commission under the Pope set out to investigate the issue and, on that year (1582), the Pope officially removed 10 (ten!) days from the calendar.
There had just been too many leap years, since Julius Caesar's decree. The Sun's Seasonal cycle, on which the Julian year is based, lasts approximately (though not precisely) 365 & 1/4 days. Thus the discrepancy which the Pope's commission aimed at correcting.
Most nations using the Julian calendar at that time followed the Pope's removal of those ten days, and so the matter was settled. The Russians did not, though, nor did they adopt the ensuing revised calendar (see next paragraph) till February 1918. This particularity resulted in a curious situation: the October revolution (1917), as it is often referred to, actually took place in November, elsewhere.
In addition to cutting 1582 short of ten days, the Pope's commission revised the Julian calendar, and worked out a formula for determining the leap years. According to this formula, a centennial year must be divisible by 400 in order to be a leap year.
Thus 2000 was a leap year, but 1900, 1800 and 1700 were not. As we can see, 2000 was a special year, even if not the technical starter of the new Millennium.
The Pope's formula for the leap years, though not absolutely accurate, works pretty well: new adjustments in the calendar are only expected to be needed around the 34th Century!
In contrast to the Julian calendar, as briefly illustrated above, the Chinese and the Islamic calendars are Moon-based. In fact, to turn to the Moon for their calendars can be seen as a tendency among many of the Ancient traditions, though obviously not the Egyptian, in which society the Sun is known to have played a major role.
Those Christian holidays which do not have a fixed date in the Julian calendar, are Moon-based, as already mentioned. The fact that 12 Lunar months are equivalent to 364 days accounts for the impossibility of a proper correspondence. Every year, these holidays thus fall on a different Julian date. For similar reasons, there can be no fixed Julian date for Chinese, Jewish, and Islamic celebrations, among others around the world.
The human quest for calendars has seen us turn to the macro Universe for clues. We do not have to go beyond our own bodies, though, to find a large number of natural clocks ticking each its own time. That is, each follows its own calendar, so to speak, though at the same time they all make up a most complex network. Following Heraclitus' everything flows, it may here be added that each of these flows bears just about a rhythm or cycle of its own.
Although our inner clocks (the rhythms living within us) are harmoniously orchestrated, there occur variations from individual to individual, within certain ranges. We have also learned that these rhythms compose two major groups, each group also bearing synchronous relations to the other.
The entire context bears such complexity that, however counter-intuitive this might appear, the temperatures of the body and of the skin have been discovered to belong, each, to one of these major groups of rhythms just mentioned – not to the same group, as anyone would possibly (and intuitively) expect.
The issue of marking time, rhythms and cycles being extremely vast, we won't go beyond the few highlights provided so far. Should the topic tickle your brain, you are welcome to write me for an eventual bibliography. (I have an extensive bibliographical listing on these and related topics. A small sample of this listing has in fact been once posted on my old Mie Web-Wise web site; but it is presently off-line so it can be better organized – whenever time allows me. Time – always time;) !...)
Does your culture/community enjoys a calendar alternative to the Julian calendar> Then please do send me a couple of lines on it, as well as on how it feels to go by two simultaneously used calendars. I'll greatly appreciate whatever you may share on such topics! Though calendars by no means constitute my specialty, because this is a time-related subject, it surely interests me.
Calendars and our attempts to mark and quantify time fall within the realm of our most objective efforts to relate to time. A yet richer universe comprises the considerable variety of subjective relationships to time and time flow, which we, human beings, develop. Despite the complexity of the matter, we can take a glimpse below at this other aspect of our dealing with time – that is, the subjective aspect.
To make it simpler, let's remain within the context of our assessing time, where a few interesting details can be briefly highlighted.
An interesting point is that there tends to be a fundamental difference between the way modern, technological oriented societies, on the one hand, and ancient or primitive societies, on the other hand, relate to Time. The tendency is that, to the former societies, Time emerges rather as a linear notion, whereas to the latter societies, Time is felt as a cyclic, circular (or spiral) entity.
Thus, someone living outside our technologically dominated world might date events in ways such as: such and such event took place when my great-grandfather killed his first lion ; or, such and such event took place when the big volcano was greatly enraged; and so on. This way of dating events may seem very vague to us who are used to days, months and years as points of reference: if we don't know when that person's great-grandfather killed his first lion (or at least when he lived), we are indeed left very much up in the air.
As mentioned on my Time page, just as we do regarding Language and Consciousness, we tend to take also Time for granted (albeit our making use of them all, all the time). We of course also tend to take our calendars for granted (whichever the calendar we use).
This taking for granted I presume is our human default because Time, Language and Consciousness are such close realities to us. We thus tend to forget to think about them, to be aware of them. We are usually too close, also too busy enjoying/using them, to be able to take a minimum needed analytical distance. And, all in all, why take time or make the effort to become aware of and reflect on something that we are so proficient in using?!...
Our brains usually allocate attention to what is new and to what we may find difficult to accomplish. The rest we usually put on automatic pilot, so to speak. When you first learned to ride a bicycle or to drive, for example, you needed to concentrate on what you were doing; now you are hardly aware of changing gears, of reducing speed before a turn, and so on.
Back to the main point, have you thought of Time and Time-marking, yourself?
How do you, as an individual, usually relate to Time? Is it quite linear, to you? or somewhat cyclic? or both, depending on circumstances? If so, which?
Would you like to share with me your views, feelings, thoughts on this issue? Please feel free, and indeed very welcome to write me on the subject!
Below, we'll have another interesting glimpse of our subjective relationships to time.
In addition to different relationships to Time as a whole, there are also quite interesting cultural contrasts among us, Human Beings, regarding our relationship to the Past and to the Future. For now, I'm leaving out the Present on purpose, as it has constituted a philosophical paradox since Aristotle's days.
In brief, the paradox goes more or less like this: In a way, we feel the Present as an extension of time, an extension which actually we cannot deny that we experience. On the other hand, how can we feel that the Present exists at all, when the Present comes to representing a mere boundary between Past and Future?...
If you are familiar with philosophy, you know that different philosophers have focused on either main aspect of the Present. For now, I will simply advance that, yes, there is a simple solution to this paradox – as in fact is the case with most paradoxes, when we figure them out. I regret that I cannot place this solution here, both because of the space it would require and because it is coming out in one of my yet unpublished manuscripts. I will eventually tackle this topic, though, at www.cognitime.com/tcm/. Keep the reference, if this interests you, or send me an e-mail, anytime.
As a token of illustration of the above mentioned cultural variations, here are a couple of communities which exhibit a contrasting relationship as far as Future Time is concerned: Scandinavians, on the one hand, who are able to glance far into the Future (as are most North European communities), and Brazilians, who, by comparison, tend to be rather near-sighted as it comes to envisioning linear Future Time ahead (a similar tendency can be said to pervade most Latin cultures, obviously allowing for variations).
To illustrate the point further, let us build a hypothetical situation. Suppose we are right on New Years' Day, that is, according to the Julian calendar. And suppose, further, that your 30th birthday will be this year, say, on July 7. Finally, suppose you wish to have a very nice, big party, this year, to celebrate the 30th year of life that you will be starting on July 7. All right. Let's see how you go about this, if you are a Scandinavian, and if you are a Brazilian.
If you are a Scandinavian, you may just as well start the planning now, design nice invitations and send them to all your friends, letting them know the day and the time for the party. You will also hire the restaurant or club well in advance, and start going about all other details with plenty of time ahead.
Once the invitations are sent out, you do not worry about contacting these friends any longer, as far as your birthday party is concerned. They will all have written down the date and time in their pocket calendars, and you can count on them showing up on the day (and time) specified on your invitation.
In contrast, if you are a Brazilian, you are going to wait till you get close to your birthday, in order to start inviting your friends! If you sent the invitations in January, just as it would be usual, were you a Scandinavian, I bet most Brazilians would find you at least a bit special ! ;)...
Interesting to add, in this regard, is that Brazilians commonly say that the future belongs to God. Peculiar as this might appear to some of us, Brazilians are not alone here, though. Other cultures enjoy fairly analogous relationships to the Future, in the sense that there is a underlying feeling that individuals are not to have control over something that rather pertains to a divine realm. We can find instances of like-minded relationships to the Future in the Arab (Islamic) world, for example.
Accordingly, the languages that these People speak exhibit expressions such as if God wills, or the like. These expressions are used in reference to Future events, most of which will be conveyed in English with the use of may or maybe or I hope or even I expect, and similar words. Possibly because language is the most tangible access that we have to the way we think, feel and look at the world, there is much that we can learn by inspecting language – our relationship to time definitely included here!
Maybe this vast topic has somehow tickled your curiosity:)...
At any rate, I hope you have enjoyed sailing with me through some of the many ways we relate to and assess time.
To me, the most fascinating aspect about Time is that as you set out to examine Human Time, you are also examining Life! We understand Life as a progression or succession of events/circumstances. An inevitable intrinsic link to Time thus ensues.
How do you, personally, relate to the Future and to the Past? Have you ever thought of it? How about similarities and contrasts underlying Future and Past? How many can you think of? How does your society/culture relate to the Future and to the Past? And to the Present? How does the paradox regarding the Present strike you? How long is the Present, after all? And where do we draw the boundary between Present and Future and between Present and Past? Or is the Present a mere boundary between Past and Future?
If you catch yourself musing over such issues, I'd greatly enjoy your taking a moment to share some of your thoughts with me! Should you come up with some questions, you are also welcome to send them over, and I promise you a reply – fairly promptly, it if is a simple reply and, if complex, as time allows me. ( again Time, always time ;)... )
On my Time page, I have briefly shared that Time, Language and Cognition have been my main topics of research and interest since the mid 80's. Though these are familiar topics to me, I know I'll never be an authority, so much there is to learn in this immensely vast field! On the other hand, I keep learning on a daily basis and – please take me seriously – any comment, question, opinion, etc., you may send me, there is a very good chance I'll learn from, as well!
Finally, now that you have taken some time to reflect on our use of calendars and other related matters that we usually take for granted, why don't you give your brain a break and visit my Calendar Gallery?! I have no doubt your eyes will be pleased while you browse for a 2002 calendar that would look just right for you!:)...or for someone you know.
Click on any of the hourglasses, below, to visit my other pages on Time:
Curious and/or fun aspects of time
Scientific aspects of human time
Are you also interested in Language
& the ways we relate to time,
as we make use of language?
If the topic tickles your mind, browse some of the articles
in LanGServices' Public Domain (Free) Sections.
There are yet more links on Time. Check my quote collections: