In the Western world, the year is strictly solar
As is known, we call Year to the cycle of 365,2559 sidereal days that it takes the Earth to pass through the same point of its orbit in order to make a complete turn around the Sun, the star that supplies it with the energy necessary for life to exist. Now, although this is an objective reality and completely measurable by science, the same does not occur with the cultural, historical and religious aspects associated with the measurement of the annual cycle.
In spite of the great differences that cultures and religions can establish throughout the planet, it is something inherent to the human being the need to celebrate the beginning of a new year. This seems to go back to remote times when the development of the hominid brain allowed them to understand that changes in the climate and the sowing and harvesting periods presented a periodicity marked by stellar phenomena, these associated to diverse divinities that it was convenient to venerate and please in order to make them propitious.
The so-called Western World, is heir to the early Roman calendar, which was not characterized by great accuracy in measuring the passage of time, which is evident if we compare it, for example, with the Haab, one of the ways to measure the year by the Mayans, which lasted just 365 days. Not to mention the year of ancient Egypt whose calendar dates back to three thousand years, being the oldest solar calendar. Its accuracy was adjusted until it reached the amazing length of 365, 25 days. The precision achieved by the Mesopotamian Empire, which had notable astronomers, is also notorious. On the contrary, for a long time, the Roman year consisted of 368 days and three quarters (3/4) of another day, with months of 30 and 29 alternating. In addition, in order to adjust as much as possible to the sidereal year, every two years they included a year of 13 months. A bit complicated, isn't it? On the other hand, the counting of a new year began at midnight on the first day of spring, a month that, ironically, was dedicated to the god of war, that is, Mars, and whose name, March, we still keep.
But if something characterized the Roman Empire, it was its practicality and lack of reserve in adopting without problems the advances made by the peoples they conquered. Thus, in the year 46 B.C., Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the so-called Julian calendar in his honor, which was based, to a large extent, on the conclusions reached by a group of renowned Egyptian experts gathered in the city of Canope, which, due to the intrigues of the priests, were soon rejected in the Nile Empire. However, aware of its effectiveness, the brilliant emperor did not hesitate to adopt it. So Julius Caesar's calendar, which would remain in force until well into the 16th century A.D., set a length of 365 days and 6 hours for the year, adding every four years a leap year of 366 days, during which they counted twice on 24 February.
It was in 1582 when a group of astronomers, under the authorization of Pope Gregory XIII, determined that there was a growing gap between the Julian calendar and the Catholic liturgical calendar, particularly in the celebration of the Resurrection Easter. As a result of the investigations carried out, the year was set at 365 days, five hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds. In his Bull or papal decree, the pontiff established that the last year of each century could be a leap year only if it was divisible by 400. As the influence of Western culture has spread practically all over the world, the Gregorian calendar governs the measurement of time throughout the planet, either in parallel or as an alternative to the calendars of different traditions, cultures, religions and cosmologies.
As a curious fact, and due to religious reasons, many non-Catholic countries were gradually incorporating the Gregorian calendar and so we find, for example, that it was in 1923 when Greece, a country whose religion is Orthodox Christianity, adopted it.
When do other cultures and religions celebrate the New Year?
Thinking that the topic of different calendars and ways of counting the year in what has been called non-Western or non-Eurocentric cultures is too broad to be developed sufficiently in this post, I have decided to leave it for a second part. However, let's make a quick tour to advance some of it.
The first thing to say is that in the vast majority of these cultures, and unlike the West, calendars are not governed by the cycles of the sun. They basically stick to a combination of the lunar and solar cycles. That is why they are called lunisolar calendars and among these we can include the Hindu, the Chinese and the Jewish. On the other hand, the Muslim calendar, the Inca calendar and that of certain prehistoric European cultures, for example, are totally lunar, understanding the year as the culmination of a 12-month cycle of 29.53 solar days each, which is how long it takes the moon to complete its four phases.
These cultures should not be underestimated in any way, as they actually include a large majority of Earth's inhabitants. Thus, for example, those who celebrate the Chinese New Year exceed 1.4 billion people only in China. According to the Chinese calendar, the year usually begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice, that is, between 21 January and 18 February of the Gregorian year. Since it is governed by the lunar cycles, there is no way to set an exact date with respect to the Western calendar.
The same applies to the Islamic calendar. It is part of the tradition of the ancient Sumerian empire and its year begins on the first day of the month known as Muharram. Since the lunar year is 11 or 12 days shorter than the solar year, it is not possible to establish a single day in relation to the Gregorian calendar, and it can be said to fall between September and October. As the commercial relations between the Muslim world and the West are very fluid, they handle both calendars. By the way, the Muslim day starts with the sunset, that is, at dusk.
Nor does it coincide, as it is also a lunar calendar, with a precise date the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, which begins on the first day of the month of Tishrei, which fluctuates between the months of September and October of the Gregorian calendar. Based on a complex algorithm, the Hebrew calendar allows for the prediction of the different dates of the new moon as well as the seasons of the year. As in the Islamic world, the day begins with sunset.
To finish this brief essay, it should be pointed out that there is also no unity of criteria regarding the beginning of the year among the Native American peoples. Thus we see that Tzihib/Tuunben Haab, the Mayan New Year is celebrated on February 23, while the Aymara people, who inhabit territories in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile, celebrate it on June 21, coinciding with the summer solstice. On the other hand, the Mapuche people, who live in Chile and Argentina, celebrate the We Tripantu, the new year, every June 24. Finally, the Capac Raymi, the Inca New Year, is celebrated between December 20 and 23, coinciding with the arrival of the winter solstice.
As you may have noticed, there is no lack of dates throughout the year to celebrate the arrival of the New Year over and over again. This is one of the advantages of living in a globalized world!
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