A Happy New Year.
Or is it?
It depends on which calendar you are using. For instance, the 1st of January 2008 in the Gregorian calendar is actually the 23rd of Tevet 5768 in the Jewish calendar, and the new year is not due for another 273 days, on the 29th of Elul, which is the 29th of September.
According to the Southern Buddhists, New Year is the first three days of the full moon in April and the year is 2551.
According to Muslims, New Year is on the 10th of January, and the year is 1429.
According to the Chinese, the New Year is in February, and the year is the Year of the Rat.
According to the Julian calendar New Year is on the 14th of January. The Julian calendar was the calendar used in the West until 1582, when it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar. Some Eastern Orthodox churches still celebrate New Year on the 14th of January and some stubborn traditionalists still use the Julian calendar for all of their dates.
In fact it is possible to celebrate New Year in almost every month of the year. It depends on what part of the world you come from and which belief-system you ascribe to.
According to Robert Anton Wilson, the great anarchist humourist and writer, the year is now 6008, his personal count beginning with the birth of Hung Mung, a mythological ancient Chinese philosopher who supposedly answered all questions by shouting loudly, "I don't know! I don't know!"
Thus Robert Anton Wilson’s satirical version of a calendar system begins with an uncertainty.
Later he revised his views, saying that ALL calendar systems, including his own, were attempts to impose a single vision on a complex world, and he started using a variety of different systems at the same time. So a Robert Anton Wilson article might be dated in any one of about twenty different ways.
What most of these different calendar systems have in common is a starting date. That is, they are linear and progressive and whoever devised the system had to choose a day on which to start calculating the progression of days and months and years that lead us up to today‘s date.
Thus time is perceived as a straight line leading from somewhere to somewhere else. So it seems to go from the past to the future, from something that is fixed and known to something that is as yet unrealised, from young to old, from youth to maturity, from ignorance to wisdom.
And as it does so it degenerates: it goes from strength to weakness, from vigour to decrepitude, shifting from imagination into habit, from creativity into decay, in a process which can never be reversed.
But time might not be like this at all. It might not go in a line. It might go in circles.
One particular Celtic version of the New Year came in the form of a story. The young Oak King challenges the old Holly King for the love of the goddess, and kills him. This story is commemorated in a garbled form in the ancient carol, the Holly and the Ivy, and is repeated, in reverse order, in the summer, when the Holly King defeats the Oak King.
Thus the cycle of the year is seen as a story of death and rebirth, endlessly echoed through time.
Which, of course, is exactly what it is: death and decay giving way to growth and rebirth, and all of us spinning in a merry dance through the cycles of seasons.
And it is this notion of time which we celebrate in our modern version of the New Year. We celebrate the idea that the year can become new again. We celebrate the renewal and the rebirth of the year.
So a Happy New Year to you once more, whenever you think that might be.