Friday, January 1, 2016

Have an arbitrary New Year!

    This past Wednesday, driving home from a day on the Arkansas River (no, I didn't catch anything!), one of my fishing companions mentioned that he had been reading some article that referred to some dates in the past as C.E. and/or B.C.E., and he was curious what that meant, and when it had come into use.  I explained, briefly, that the abbreviations meant "Common Era" and "Before the Common Era" respectively, and that they translated to "A.D." and "B.C." (or Anno Domini - the "Year of our Lord" and "Before Christ" respectively).  They have become used more frequently in the last twenty-five to thirty years, as our world has "shrunk" and not everyone calculates time based on the birth-year of Jesus.*  (Doing a bit of research since Wednesday, I learned that "C.E." can be found as early as 1708 in English.  There's a lot more to it; the Wikipedia article is pretty good!)
     As we continued our conversation, I noted that a lot of our dating is pretty arbitrary, and that, of course, lots of different cultures/religions around the world have their own "New Year's" celebration.  Western Christianity begins its liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent, approximately four weeks before Christmas.  Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, starts its liturgical year on September 1, while celebrating New Years on a date mid-January, based on the Julian Calendar.  Today (January 1st) marks the beginning of the celebration of Gantan-sai in Japan, a 7-day New Year's observance. But THAT has only been the case since 1873, when the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar and shifted their "New Year's Day" away from the Lunar New Year (still observed by many Asian cultures).  To complicate things even further, there are 
FOUR Jewish new years, the most familiar being Rosh Hashanah in September/October.  Other religious/cultural traditions start their new year based on a lunar cycle, or the birth of a leader.
       Given the diversity of those observances, it is very useful to have a common calendar, if for no other reason than to facilitate business dealings world-wide.  The same can be said (and they're certainly related) for a common clock -- good old Greenwich Mean Time being the counterpart to the Gregorian Calendar.  But even with the clock, (somewhat) arbitrary decisions are made.  Aside from the American fascination with arguing about Daylight Savings Time, other countries keep their entire population on one time-zone.  That of course, in the case of 
China (operating on Beijing Time), makes for very interesting work days in the far west of the country.
       So, I guess, time is relative -- and not in the way that Einstein meant it.  And I wonder how much of the rest of our lives can be seen as equally relative?  Food for thought, i suppose.  But, on this day, the New Year's Day, I'm glad we have something in COMMON over which there is little, if any, conflict. May we start 2016 reflecting on that which we hold in common and praying that those things which divide us -- many of which are pretty arbitrary -- lose their contentious qualities.
      A peaceful new year to you all!


And, of course, the birthdate of Jesus is open for debate, most scholars believing that Jesus was born in 4 BC (or BCE)!.  That is, he was born before he was born. And, let's not even get into the whole question of December 25!

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