Happy New Year! Sort-of, ish. – by Alma Boykin
The sun is shifting farther and farther south, shortening the days and lengthening the nights. The geese are flocking south, with a few Sandhill cranes following. Athena T. Cat has moved from the front couch to the master bedroom and now reposes on my bed, toasting her toes in the afternoon sun that spills under the deep eves. The year turns, the sun moves, plants and animals respond, and time passes.
Happy New Year! Right?
When does the year end, anyway? When does it start? What defines a season?
If you use the Western Christian liturgical calendar, New Year’s Day fell on December 2 this year. The previous Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, when the church looks to the time when Jesus will return as king of the world, to judge the quick and the dead, or as a different part of the liturgy says, “When Christ shall come in final victory and we feast at His heavenly banquet table.” Except we don’t throw wild parties or wear lampshades on our heads to all those things people are alleged to do on New Year’s Eve. Instead we sigh about “where has time gone” and wonder if this year the music director will make good on her threats that Christmas carols will only be sung during Christmastide, that being the period between December 24 and January 6. And everyone grumbles about how long HallowThanksMas lasts.
How many calendars do we live by? There’s the January 1 to December 31 cycle that most of the world uses, or at least adds to their own particular calendar when needed. There are religious calendars, some of which impinge or overflow onto the secular world (Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Passover and Yom Kippur, the legal holiday of Corpus Christi*.) Personal calendars with anniversaries, birthdays, death days, years in remission, years sober or clean. Academic calendars that count down the days until breaks and summer, often watched more closely by teachers than by students and their parents. Tax calendars that go by quarter or by year and that culminate on April 15, or the first or last days of the fiscal quarters, and that bump into the federal fiscal year.
There are also ghosts of calendars past, like the Thermadorian Reaction, April Fools Day, and the October Revolution that happened in what is now November. Halloween, once Samhain, the end of the year for pagan Irish and others, when the hard times of the year began to draw near as the sun disappeared and took heat and light with it.
Usaians have High Holy Days centering on July Fourth.
For me, the year starts in autumn because the days grow short, planting has started along with planning for the next farming year, and school is in session. This is my favorite time of year, with cooler days, longer nights that give me more time to be out and about, winter music, and the mystery of Christmas. DadRed really dreads autumn and winter, for equally good reasons. I don’t care for spring and summer. The world slows down from the heat, I’m trapped indoors or forced to be up by 0500 in order to do outdoor things before the sun rises, and it’s when storms roll through.
Humans mark the year through different ways and with different start and end points. Some calendars work better than others, at least in the world as it currently is. Some have been adapted to the dominate sun-based fixed calendar that dominates the western world, others remain free-floating and lunar and proudly refuse to adapt. Into the 20th Century (and probably still in some pockets and hollers), some Western Christians maintained that Christmas was not December 25 but January 6, the “Old Christmas” from before the Gregorian to Julian switch. Some calendars are deeply personal, based on when a family came into being, or when life began again after chemo or another life-shattering and rebuilding event. “Only 245 and a quarter days to LibertyCon, not that anyone’s counting.” “Summer doesn’t begin until we reach the lake-house.” “I don’t care what the calendar says, it is winter already.”
Regency London had “the Season.” A lot of Europe still does, focusing on the wild weeks between New Year and Ash Wednesday, the time when the rules are a little looser and satire a little fiercer, when the Fools point out the emperor’s nakedness and people attend the great society balls and parties to see and be seen.
I suspect that deep down, there are as many ways of marking time’s passing as there are people. Wet and dry seasons. Times of flowers and the moon of falling leaves. Religious feasts and secular feasts, the fasting and weeping and wailing leading up to April 15. We watch for migrations and the succession of plants as the sun moves north and south. People in Canada giggle at Santa on water-skies in Australia, while Australians snort at declarations of “Hurricane Season is upon us” from the ‘States. “Hottest year on record,” pronouncements while crops droop under snow in South Africa or South America generate more than chuckles. My new year is somewhen in August, because my life is tied to the academic calendar, then the liturgical one, and the secular one. Half the world’s population marks the new year by the moon, but doesn’t object to parties on December 31 (unless their government is cracking down that year.)
I suspect humans will take our various calendars into space with us, and layer them onto newer systems. In the background to part of Fountains of Mercy, rabbis are (once more) trying to decide how to calculate the High Holy Days and other things for Jews living away from Earth. And people trying to adapt Earth systems to planets with different year lengths. The characters on Shikhari focus on the dry and the wet, and base their social year on those seasons, while trying to sort out what the government on Home meant by “four weeks after receiving this memo, the local Commander is enjoined to…” Whose week?
*I giggled a little too much when the government of France announced that it would cut back on the number of paid federal holidays, and the Communists and trades unions vehemently insisted that Corpus Christi remain on the list.