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Let me be the first to wish you all a happy old year!… (What?)
Our present calendar, now shared worldwide as something of a default by essentially all nations, makes travel, worldwide communication and commerce, and any number of other things, so much easier. But even so, our current calendar is something of an inherited mess.
Here’s what I mean: the current calendar has a Babylonian numbering system grafted to Norse weekday names embedded in a fairly weird set of 12 months designating Roman emperors and gods. January, as one example, is named after Janus, the god of doors, with two faces. (See?) As well, consider that the position of the last several of those months does not match the names themselves. September? That means “seventh month.” October, November, December? Eighth, ninth, tenth months.
So the year should begin after the twelfth month, which by witness of their names is … February – which means the year (obviously) should begin in March.
Humanity has advanced since Pope Gregory blessed the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Mere schoolchildren now know the world is round, that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and that our orbit is elliptical. Surely we should have a calendar that does not need leap years, a “feature” that exists because the Gregorian calendar is free floating, a mathematical approximation not tied to actual events in the sky. As a result, by the way, we also have leap centuries: every 4th century we add a day. Who knew?
The way forward to a sensible global calendar suggests that humanity choose one which establishes the completion of the year at one of the four quadrant points of our orbit: either one of the solstices or one of the equinoxes. The spring equinox, usually about March 21st, surely makes the most sense. That’s the time, at least in the northern hemisphere, where 90% of the world’s population lives, when spring arrives, the plants awake from their winter slumber, and the earth shows us, once again, the meaning of verdant beauty:
At the time of the vernal equinox in the material world a wonderful vibrant energy and new life-quickening is observed everywhere in the vegetable kingdom; the animal and human kingdoms are resuscitated and move forward with a new impulse. The whole world is born anew, resurrected. Gentle zephyrs are set in motion, wafting and fragrant; flowers bloom; the trees are in blossom, the air temperate and delightful; how pleasant and beautiful become the mountains, fields and meadows. Likewise, the spiritual bounty and springtime of God quicken the world of humanity with a new animus and vivification. All the virtues which have been deposited and potential in human hearts are being revealed from that Reality as flowers and blossoms from divine gardens. It is a day of joy, a time of happiness, a period of spiritual growth. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 39.
Humanity has never chosen a widely-used calendar except as the result of a revelation, new millennial guidance from God: The Hindu calendar, the Mayan calendar, the Jewish calendar, the Christian or Muslim calendar all have a religious origin, which makes sense, if you think about it: time itself is sacred.
The newest of these calendars, born at the dawn of the scientific age, is the Baha’i calendar, known more formally as the Badi Calendar. (Badi means ‘wondrous’ or ‘unique’.)
Among other fascinating features, this calendar begins each year at the spring equinox, which usually arrives on the day we now call March 21st, because the Baha’i calendar links to real planetary and solar events. Thus every year begins on the day when the axis of the Earth passes soundlessly through one of the two points in its annual orbit where the length of day and night are equal.
In the Baha’i calendar, the names of the days and months have also changed – they’re named after the attributes of God and the spiritual virtues of humankind. One of my favorite examples: the Baha’i month called “Questions,” mostly because there is no corresponding month called “Answers.” The deep questions truly drive us forward. If we find a deep answer that does not lead to another deep question, where do we go next? So I love this month because it tells us that life is a journey, it tells us that we should ask questions and learn throughout our life, and it tells us – at least as I see it – that all are created equal, for none of us has answers that should escape further questions. We’re all in it together – humanity is one, right?
There is as well a fascinating longer term structure to the Baha’i calendar which implies the increasing use of longer-term thinking, as would be required for projects that will span beyond one human lifetime, such as humankind’s response to the climate crisis. (Learn more about the Badi calendar).
So: happy old year. You still have a couple of months before the astronomical, scientific, sensible, actual new New Year:
The divine religions are like the progression of the seasons of the year. When the earth becomes dead and desolate and because of frost and cold no trace of vanished spring remains, the springtime dawns again and clothes everything with a new garment of life. The meadows become fresh and green, the trees are adorned with verdure and fruits appear upon them. Then the winter comes again, and all the traces of spring disappear. This is the continuous cycle of the seasons – spring, winter, then the return of spring. But though the calendar changes and the years move forward, each springtime that comes is the return of the springtime that has gone; this spring is the renewal of the former spring. Springtime is springtime, no matter when or how often it comes. The divine Prophets are as the coming of spring, each renewing and quickening the teachings of the Prophet Who came before Him. Just as all seasons of spring are essentially one as to newness of life, vernal showers and beauty, so the essence of the mission and accomplishment of all the Prophets is one and the same. Now the people of religion have lost sight of the essential reality of the spiritual springtime. They have held tenaciously to ancestral forms and imitations, and because of this there is variance, strife and altercation among them. Therefore, we must now abandon these imitations and seek the foundation of the divine teachings; and inasmuch as the foundation is one reality, the divergent religionists must agree in it so that love and unity will be established among all people and denominations. – Ibid., pp. 126-127.