My friend and client Betsy told me she took last Monday off because it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I’ve been familiar with Rosh Hashanah ever since I left Kansas, but it still momentarily struck me as odd, that she would celebrate a calendar event that I don’t. A generic parochial sensibility considers it obvious that New Year is meant to be, if not on January 1, thereabouts, when we northerners rediscover the sun is not going to leave us forever.
Rosh Hashanah wanders in relation to the Gregorian calendar, landing somewhere between early September and early October. The Jewish calendar is on a 19-year cycle in which a lunar month gets added as needed so that the feast and the season correspond. It’s a luni-solar system, similar to the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year comes on the occasion of the second new moon after the winter solstice, unless an intercalary month intervenes. Got that? Even odder, it seems to me, to have a completely lunar-based calendar, like the Muslim one, in which the New Year, Ras as-Sanah al-Hijriyah, advances in relation to “our” months and the seasons. Two years ago it was in December, this year in November, two years from now it will be in October. (Whose year? one might ask.) I interpret this to mean that the cosmic reality takes precedence over what is actually happening on the ground. Maybe that’s a leap.
What is common to cultures whose New Year is not tied to the eminently more rational Gregorian calendar with its leap days and thirty-day hath-ing September April June and whatnot, is that New Year is not a day but days, sometimes weeks, of ritual and celebration, often involving new things and old guilts. Contrast that with us Gregorianists, with all the fake bonhomie, the ritual ball drop, the fireworks indicating an achievement nobody had a hand in, and somebody throwing up in the bathroom. Does anyone really like it?
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on the other hand—I think I’ll start celebrating it. It has a consistent start, the spring equinox, involves new clothes, great food, cleaning the house, and visits to relatives (might skip the last two.)
Kidding, relatives. You’re welcome to join me.