So another ‘Calendar Year’ is here (and the ‘newness’ of the year might have already gone. By the logic of my elders ‘Navyache Nau Diwas’, meaning novely of every new thing lasts only for Nine days.) … just an other Calendar year. Yet again the memes about new year resolutions which lasts just till the year is new, have flooded the timelines on various social media accounts (and I think by today most of these memes might have come true again) . There is some element of truth to these memes. Nothing to be ashamed of, but the observations are worth pondering. Why many of us get driven to make resolutions around new year, why very few of us are actually able to carry out what we resolve and can we program ourselves to keep more of the promises we make to ourselves?
What’s a Year?
A year is the time taken by Earth to orbit all the way around the Sun. A day is the time taken by Earth to revolve around its own axis for once (we have divided this time into 24 divisions called hours. Let me not go into more details of the day here, yet you can read about sidereal day, stellar day, etc.). Now, the length of the year is approximately 365.2425 days. But including a few hours of a day in one year and leaving others will cause confusion. So we generally have 365 days in a year and we accumulate the excess hours as an extra day (Gregorian Calendar).
(Do you Know: Hence 97 out of 400 years are leap years? Note, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years but 2000 was a leap year along with every other year divisible by 4 but not divisible by 100. Again 2100 will not be a leap year. ).
Things get interesting with ancient Indian/Hindu Calendars (Old Shaka, Vikram Samvat, etc.). These calendars follow lunar months. Hence twelve months (masa, lunar month) is approximately equal to 354 days, which is about 11 days less than the length of a solar year. This creates a difference of about eleven days, which is offset every (29.53/10.63) = 2.71 years, or approximately every 32.5 months. Purushottam Maas or Adhik Maas is an extra month that is inserted to keep the lunar and solar calendars aligned. (There is an additional correction of maas, when one month gets dropped/canceled for further corrections over longer durations- centuries)
(Do you Know: When I talked about the day, it was a 24-hour day of one complete revolution of Earth around itself. Apart from that divas (solar day- based on solar movement. One sunrise to another is 1 divas. Note that this time is not 24 hours) and tithi (lunar day – based on movements of the moon. A tithi also is not 24 hours but can vary between 21.5 hours to 26 hours.) are two concepts you can read about.)
Indian National Calendar, also known as Saka Calendar was prepared/adopted by the calendar reform committee led by Senior Indian Astrophysicist Meghnad Saha. by studying different calendar systems used throughout the country. It has the same length as that of the Gregorian year.
The Hijri or Islamic year also follows the lunar months and hence are 354 or 355 days in length.
(Throwback: During school days, while very early education of basic astronomy (as part of the geography syllabus) was being taught, I was very much confident that the time taken by Earth to complete one revolution around the Sun and reach some fixed point on orbit once again should be called a year. But later, I got to know that even the position of the orbit is not fixed and neither is the time for this revolution. This is one of the incidents that fuelled the understanding that we can not have ‘absolute’ knowledge about something.)
What’s a ‘New Year’?
Actually, when I thought a little deeper, there was nothing special about the moment when the calendar changes. A little more thought and it again felt special, along with countless other moments. (Remember, It is not just about one calendar but every other calendar. People generally use such information to discredit one thing and childishly think that it makes other things look better, by default.)
The current calendar according to which we just celebrated the new year is the Gregorian Calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII as a modification of the Julian Calendar. The Julian calendar day Thursday, 4 October 1582 was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, Friday, 15 October 1582. The Julian calendar, first implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., had fallen out of sync with seasons since the Roman emperor’s system miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes. So the new year day of the Julian calendar is not the same day as the new year day of the Gregorian calendar… though both are the 1st of January in respective calendars.
Currently (from 1901 to 2099), Julian Calendar is behind the corresponding Gregorian date by 13 days. Some people around the globe (traditions who follow the Julian Calendar) will be celebrating the new year on the 14th of this month. But the Julian Calendar itself is a modification of the old Roman Calendar which used to start on the 1st of March, when September was the 7th, October 8th, and December 10th month as their names suggest. Though most of the world accepted first the Julian and then Gregorian Calendar as it should be for practical purposes in an increasingly connected world, the observation of the new year has been different at various times in various places. 25 March to honor Lady Day, 25 December as Jesus’ Birth, 29 August in Egypt (sometime), 23 September as the birthday of Emperor Augustus, etc. There was a time when 1 January was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus, but not as New Year’s Day.
Various European nations and colonies adopted 1 January as the start of the new year during different years, mostly when the Julian Calendar was still being used. To name a few, France in 1564, most of Germany in 1544, Spain and Portugal in 1556, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in 1599, Scotland from 1600, and Russia in 1725. England, Wales, Ireland, and Britain’s American colonies did so in 1752.
The various calendars from the Indian Subcontinent, which mostly follow lunar months, celebrate the new year on different dates. A significant lunar position combined with social-cultural significance like the first new moon of Chaitra month (the first new moon after the solar equinox) is Gudhi padawa celebrated as new year day in Maharashtra and some other states of India. While in Gujarat, the new year starts with Kartik Month (which coincides with Diwali) of the same calendar, Vikram Samvat.
In the Indian National Calendar, Chaitra is the first month of the calendar. Chaitra has 30 days and starts on March 22 in non-leap years and in leap years, it has 31 days and starts on March 21. (Similar to Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian Solar Hijri calendar this start coincides with the March equinox.). But the diwas starts with Sunrise, so no point in staying awake for midnight strokes of 00:00 hrs.
In Islamic Calendar, the year begins on the first day of the month of Muharram. This keeps on changing with respect to the Gregorian calendar as there are no adjustments as per solar/sidereal year. A day in the Islamic calendar is defined as beginning at sunset, that’s when the new year starts.
What’s so special about ‘New Year’?
Till now you must have understood what a new year means and when does it start. If you don’t, you are not alone, we are two (at least).
The meaning of the year actually depends on the calendar accepted/followed by the socio-economic structures you are a member of. In the more connected world of this era of globalization, we find ourselves to be part of many such structures. For most of us, we are still following the native calendars of our forefathers for festivals, religious activities, events related to traditional occupation, etc. Yet, as global citizens need one calendar to be in sync, the Gregorian calendar is driving the most significant parts of our lives now. We might decide on the various dates as the start of a new calendar year, new economic year, or new ‘personal’ year starting from your birthday, but the year we are talking about is majorly Gregorian. (How will your colleague from another part of this planet wish you on your birthdays as per say Vikram Samvat birth ‘tithi’ when it keeps falling on different Gregorian dates and times every year?).
Yet, who has denied us our right to observe any calendar in any way we want? But as per my understanding, most of us need some social confirmation from others about various events, and the more diverse your social circle, the more likely you are to go back to the Gregorian calendar.
Even in the Gregorian Calendar, every day is the start of a new year that is going to end next year at the exact same time (don’t be too smart to talk about 29th February. You already know what I mean.) So what if your resolution lasted only a few days and then discontinued ? If it’s still relevant, today another new year is starting. Go ahead and do it again. Don’t say I am never going to break my resolution again. Because everyone does (almost). Let’s be different by accepting it and doing it again. Let’s develop the awareness that every moment is special. Believe it and reap the benefits.
(Note: I started writing this piece on 30th December of 2022 and posting it today on 9th January of 2023. I had resolved to finish it in two days, but couldn’t. So what? I just kept on revisiting. I was sure, any day I finish will be a special day. Today MAXIMESS completed 14 years of incorporation and I am writing this finishing note sitting in Aundh (Pune), where some crucial meetings about the inception of MAXIMESS took place in 2008. My advice for myself if this article finds me 14 years ago? It’s Okay if you are not constantly at some tasks, make sure you revisit it today. The today in the title means the day you are reading this article. Yes, it starts now. )