Calendar Complexities

In my January e-mail of the Interfaith Calendar, I included these comments on the complexities of calculating the New Year in the interfaith context:

The idea of a standard calendar, in the West, at least, seemed to stem from the needs for uniformity across the length and breadth of world empires. The roots of our Western system are in the calendar proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, which sought to standardize the multiple local and religious ways of keeping time into a common system. The Julian calendar served that function in the West until it was itself replaced by the Gregorian calendar, named for Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. To this day, some groups in the East still use the Julian calendar. That”s why, if you look closely at our monthly religious listings, you will see different dates for Christian celebrations in the Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant), and Eastern (Byzantine, Orthodox) churches.Depending on your particular tradition, this may or may not be the beginning of the new year: for Christians, “new year”s day” was December 3rd, the first Sunday of Advent. For Jews, the year began with Rosh Hashana on September 23, 2006 (not to mention the new year for trees, which falls on February 3rd, 2007); the Baha”i year begins on March 21st, and the Wiccan new year is Samhain on October 31st.Whatever your tradition may be, let me take advantage of the (more or less) standard date of January 1st to wish you and yours all the best for this coming year. Blessings and peace be with you all.

Well, I always get into trouble when I begin generalizing about religious calendars. My good friend Fr. James Graham, the pastor of St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, set me straight on a few details:

More calendrical complications:
1. Not all Byzantine Christians use the Julian calendar. In fact, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar led to schism in the Greek Orthodox Church and the premature retirement of a Patriarch in the Melkite Catholic Church. People often think that the different date for Easter is a Julian vs. Gregorian thing, but in fact it”s a difference in the rule for calculating the date of Easter (Orthodox insist it has to be after Passover).
2. Nor do all Christians begin the liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent–only Western Christians (those who are in the Roman tradition, no matter how far removed . . . ). In the Byzantine Churches (Catholic and Orthodox), the church year begins on 1 September, the first day of the civil year in the Byzantine Empire,
Fun, fun, fun!

As Fr. James makes very clear, even within a single religious tradition there is wide variation that often gets overlooked in the broad generalizations of our culture. Still, these differences are reminders that our customs of dividing time and space do not reflect some fundamental structure of the universe, but our own traditions for denoting time and space.

At any rate, Happy New Year (whenever you might celebrate it!)

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