Happy New What?

Whew. The day after Christmas and no more of this angst over what to wish people–“Merry Whatever” versus “Happy Holidays” is over for another year…or is it?

This year especially, the concern seemed particularly over-blown, or was it just another one of those slow-news periods and this is what got chosen to fill in? But if we thought there was anxiety about the December holiday greetings, that was just a mere warm-up for what is waiting for us next.

If Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah exist for specified groups, why have we not noticed that the same is true for New Year’s, that for some of us at least, is on January 1? I regret to inform you that to think that the date for the new year is the same for everyone is to be grossly misinformed.

Shouldn’t we be more sensitive in this hyper-sensitive world we are living in? To wish someone of the Chinese culture “Happy New Year” on or around January 1, is totally inappropriate. Same for those who are Jewish. Totally off base to be wishing them “Happy New Year” when it’s not their new year at all. Same for the Muslims, come to think of it. And aren’t there others with other ideas for the beginning of the new year? And you thought the Christmas/Chanuka/Kwanza/holiday thing was bad. This is a mega-monster in comparison.

Ready to get confused? Let’s see…it seems that the January 1 date as the start of a new year is based on the Gregorian calendar that was based on the earlier Julian calendar that was designed by Roman pagan (oh no!) priests that Caesar had commissioned. I guess those pagan priests were a little lax in the math department because their computations resulted in years that were too long by 11 minutes and 14 seconds–and that meant that every 14 years there was an extra day that belonged nowhere. By the time Pope Gregory came to the rescue with the leap year solution, there were already 11 extra days just hanging out without a home. So to fix that, in the year 1582 the calendar dates went from October 4th to October 15th overnight—literally. Moral to that story: don’t trust pagans with anything having to do with counting or calendars.

Having seen the major mess those pagans had caused, the rest of the world got smart—or did they?—and went religious about setting up its own calendars, each starting with a different date for the new year. The complications were just beginning.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has its new year on what we know as January 14–unless you’re talking about the Romanian or Greek Orthodox, and they have chosen to stick with Pope Gregory’s idea.

Keeping track of the Jewish new year keeps you guessing because it’s different every year, the problem being that the Jewish year is between 354-385 days—the moon determining the exact number of days for a given year. Oh my.

The Islamic calendar makes the Jewish one pale in terms of complexity. In fact to try to describe it here would be a mistake. Suffice it to say that sometimes there can even be two new years within one year. No wonder the terrorists are up in arms and perhaps schizophrenic to boot–they are so confused about the month and the year that they can’t figure out what time it is, let alone anything else, and they’re blaming us because of our and our calendar’s original association with those math-challenged and unprincipled pagans.

The Sikhs have their new year in April. The Mayans, Zoroastrians, and those who follow Baha’i, if they have new year celebrations at all, have them at times so diverse and difficult to calculate that no one has any clear idea of when they might be. Let’s hope they don’t get schizophrenic too.

The Hindus got involved with the planet Jupiter, instead of the moon, and celebrate their new year sometime in late fall–the exact date also changes every year.

The Buddhists are at the top of the complication game because the new year for them depends on where in the world you are talking about–it varies among cultures, continents, and countries. Great.

And you thought New Year’s was simple and free from strife. If only it were so. In these complex and hyper-sensitive times, this new year thing could be what blows the top on the powder keg we’ve all found ourselves unwittingly perched upon.

So, before you get so bold as to innocently start flinging those Happy New Year greetings around, thinking you are safe from offending anyone, think again. And hang on tight just in case. Most regrettably, life just is’t that simple and innocent anymore.

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