The beginning of the year


Ah friends, times have been surprisingly hard, but for all their difficulty and draining demands there has not yet been one moment of despair. Everything promises still, and rather than succumb to resignation I want to start the year afresh. Why not? See I want to begin 2011 from this day. January may have formally been the first month of the Gregorian calendar year, but these seasons aren’t so fixed as we might think.

The ancients relied on moons, but we moderns follow suns. The Gregorian calendar we use is a tropical or solar one, based on observing the vernal equinox in Spring. This is why many calendars celebrate the beginning of the year at around the end of March. In Britain our year ended on March 25th, Lady’s Day, and the fiscal year has retained this old institution, ending between March 25th and April 5th for different purposes. The French Republican calendar, which also ends with the vernal equinox, tells us that the year is 219 or CCXIX. The French revolutionaries had ten days in a week and ten hours in a day, much like the Romans. Our time systems are scarcely universal even in this small niche of the globe.

Most world cultures have in fact their own calendar, and the Gregorian one most commonly used – 365 days, marking the year 2011ad since the birth of Christ – is not particularly ancient or accurate. It was imposed on Europe from 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to correct the previous Julian calendar by ten minutes, but the Julian calendar was itself created by Emperor Julius Caesar to correct an older Roman calendar. Yet Romans never really counted years except in terms of who consuls were at that time, making it difficult to establish modern equivalents to Roman times. In 525 a Scythian monk called Dennis the Short (seriously) established the dates of our Anno Domini system, which copied the Roman system in order to accurately map out when Easter festivals were supposed to occur. There was no intention to mark a historical event – Dennis simply copied the old Diocletian system, called it anno domini, and later the Venerable Bede copied Dennis (or Dionysius Exiguus to be fair to his grander eponym), with the Anno Domini system spreading through Europe from the 8th century.

In the Hebrew calendar, we’re currently in the year 5771, with the year ending on 28 September. In the Islamic calendar we’re in the year 1432 anno Hegirae, marking the years since Mohammed’s journey to Medina, and which ends on the 26th November. How about the financial year? With time and space flattened into an eternal present of trade, consumption and domination, there is in fact no year. Lunar calendars count 360 days in a year…..

Where exactly am I taking you with this reader? Well I want to argue that, using my rather simple evidence and the weight of my own suspicions, that the year is a construction, a ruse that, in times of play or desperation, we can adjust and change for our own ends. So, simply put, for 2011 my year begins today. And to celebrate, here are some goals. Every year should have something in mind to accomplish.

1. Be more strange.
2. Yes, complete that collection of poems I’ve been working off (and occasionally on) for the past years.
3. Play the piano.
4. Get writing published in three new magazines.
5. Go camping.
6. Get to the Faroe Islands. Even if I die trying. A pilgrimage to nowhere as good as anywhere, an impoverished Hajj.
7. Strive to maintain feelings of calm and happiness worked on and discovered in 2010.
8. No more than an hour a day on the Internet.
9. To do far more for Sarah, including postponed DIY and being a more attentive and thoughtful lover.
10. Improve my handwriting so that can be read by at least 20% of people.

Ten’s a good number. Readers – try this yourself. Create your own maps and calendars and to hell with Roman hangups and Christian fabrications. It’s absurdly easy and easily absurd. Good luck!

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