February 06, 2017

#05-001: New Years' Celebrations

a two-panel cartoon: a baby bearing a banner reading "1905" chases an old man toward the pages of a huge open book; in the second panel the baby is slamming the book with the old man presumably inside
Baby New Year 1905 chases old 1904 into the history books

Note: Scholar Mircea Eliade describes New Years' celebrations as like hitting a "reset button" on our lives. See how two different cultures do this.

Get Ready: How (and when) do you celebrate the start of a new year?

Anywhere years are counted (which is virtually everywhere), there is some recognition of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Celebrating of a "New Year" is more-or-less universal, but how those celebrations are held, and when, varies greatly from culture to culture.

Perhaps one of the oddest aspects of being a foreigner in China (especially a western one) is the stretch of time over which one says, "Happy New Year!" We may start in the last days of December, and--depending on the date of China's "Spring Festival"--may still be saying it late in February!

By the way, few of my Chinese friends knew how the date of Spring Festival or "Chinese New Year" was chosen. ("Just look at the calendar," they said.) But in fact, the date is (with some minor variation) the second new moon after the winter solstice (called in Chinese culture Dongzhi). As this moment is fixed by the motion of the sun, China properly has a "lunisolar calendar," and not a strictly lunar one, as is often said. (More on that in a moment.)

And so, the date of Spring Festival is roughly within two weeks before or after the start of February, the time called Lichun or "start of spring" in Chinese--hence the name "Spring Festival."

Although the January 1 Western date and the varying Chinese dates are widely celebrated, there are many other days designated as "New Year's Day" as well. One of the most interesting is the start of the Muslim year. Because that year is 11 or 12 days shorter than the western (Gregorian) year, the date changes every year, and can occur in any season. Thus, it is truly a "lunar year," not anchored to the progression of the sun through the seasons, as the Chinese New Year is.

According to the scholar of religions Mircea Eliade, the idea of any New year celebration is a sort of "resetting of the clock." Although modern people consider time to be linear, it is also, in some ways, cyclical, repeating the seasons and going back to "day one" every year.

This important phenomenon has spawned a number of other observances, which we'll look at over the next few lessons.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. anchored
  2. cyclical
  3. linear
  4. lunar
  5. observances
  6. solar
  7. spawned
  8. universal
  9. virtually
  10. winter solstice

  1. fastened; affixed
  2. given birth to
  3. just about; nearly
  4. moving in a circle; repeating itself
  5. the shortest day of the year
  6. moving in a straight line
  7. of the sun
  8. acknowledgements or celebrations of an occasion
  9. of the moon
  10. practiced everywhere

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 6, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. d; 3. f; 4. i; 5. h; 6. g; 7. b; 8. j; 9. c; 10. e