Happy (religious) New Year, all year long, age after age

THE GUY EXPLAINS:

Lacking a specific question from a reader, The Guy takes on his own chosen topic — aspects of time’s passage in world religion.

The commonly observed times have notably religious origins. Years (e.g. 2014) are counted from an ancient and inaccurate guess on when Jesus Christ was born. Non-Christians often designate years as C.E. (“Common Era”) instead of A.D. (“Anno Domini” meaning “Year of the Lord”). Our Gregorian Calendar is a reform ordered by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which skipped past 10 days and devised the leap year system. Because of that Roman Catholic origin, Anglican Britain and its Protestant American colonies didn’t switch from the ancient Julian Calendar until 1752, and Greece, where the Orthodox Church dominates, held out until 1922!

CHRISTIANITY – As with most faiths, January 1 has no religious significance whatever, though some congregations do hold New Year’s Eve services. For many, the “church year” begins on the first of four Sundays in the Advent season that prepares for Christmas. Celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 (or January 7 for “old calendar” Orthodox) is an arbitrary choice that took hold in the 3rd Century.

JUDAISM – Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year”) begins a 10-day period of spiritual and moral reflection, the Days of Awe, culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The new year occurs in September or early October and, oddly enough, on the religious calendar’s 7th month, not the first month, determined by complex calculations. The years (5775 begins next September 24) are counted from the traditional time for God’s creation of Adam and Eve.

ISLAM – Years are counted from the founding Prophet Muhammad’s flight (“hijra”) from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. The religious calendar follows lunar months with a shortened year of 354.37 days instead of the conventional solar year of 365.26 days. So new year’s day (not a major festival) and all religious dates gradually float backward through all four seasons of the solar calendar (the next year begins around October 25 in 2014). Because a month’s start is reckoned by authorized naked-eye sightings of the new moon, two consecutive days are often built into calendars for advance planning.

HINDUISM – Some 30 days for the new year occur in various parts of India, many around the spring equinox. The national calendar puts new year’s day on March 22. One tradition says the season marks when Brahma began creation.

CHINESE RELIGIONS – Taoism, Confucianism, and other ancient spiritual traditions developed an elaborate system of lunar calculations to fix the important 15-day new year’s season beginning on the 12th day of the 12th month, in mid-January extending through mid-February. This is a season to propitiate gods and ancestors.

BUDDHISM – The faith’s calendar often observes regional culture, especially Chinese new year, but many begin the religious year in mid-January or springtime.

JAINISM – The religious year begins on the first day of the month of Kartika, which occurs on variable autumn dates.

SIKHISM – The year starts on March 14, the birth date of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak, in 1469 C.E.

ZOROASTRIANISM – Iran’s great historical religion is all but supplanted by Islam and perpetuated mostly by India’s Parsees. The year starts at the spring equinox.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES – This religion, which forbids Christmas and birthday celebrations, also bars new year festivities due to historical roots that honored pagan gods.

MAYAN RELIGION – The ancient civilization of southern Mexico and Central America made headlines in 2012 leading up to December 21, when some New Agers supposed its calendar meant the world would end. Actually, the mathematically-minded Mayans’ time was endless so 2012 ended a long cycle of 2,880,000 days (7,885 solar years). Religious reckoning of short cycles (years) had 20 months of 13 days each.

Whatever your creed or lack thereof, a Happy New Year from the Ridgewood Religion Guy and “Religion Q and A.”

Those who learned about this blog during 2013 might be interested in the purpose defined upon launch just over a year ago. Read it all.

QUESTION FOR THE GUY? Leave it in our comments pages or at his site.

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

  • FW Ken

    Liturgical Christians have traditionally celebrated January 1st as the Feast of the Circumcision, it being the 8th day from the birth of Jesus. In the 70s, the Catholics changed it to Mary, Mother of God, as a holy day of obligation.

    • Julia B

      When it was the feast of the circumcision it was already a holy day of obligation.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        Correct.
        To The Guy’s point, Jan 1 as New Year’s Day has no religious significance in the liturgical calendar. As the Octave Day of Christmas, it is very significant, but the fact that this day is New Year’s is just coincidence.

      • FW Ken

        I knew it was. Bad phrasing. Actually, I learned that Anglicans are calling it the Feast of the Holy Name.

        • Julia B

          Never understood why they changed it. Squeamishness about circumcisions?

  • wlinden

    How dare those Romans IMPOSE their stupid “New Year” on everybody, just because that is when the inaugurated their officials!


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