Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy New Year!

 Our calendars have all come to an end and have been chucked out, replaced with bright, new, unsullied calendars for the next cycle of days. All over the world, obsolete Gregorian calendars (the common calendar in use today) lay discarded and largely forgotten, new ones having taken their place on desks and walls everywhere. A year from now they, too, will be nothing but relics, a chart of time gone by, never to be revisited.

But because the calculators and issuers of Gregorian calendars continue to practice their trade, we have new calendars for the next year. Some include phases of the moon and the ebb and flood of the tides, even holidays important to the location of issuance…but they all have two things in common: they are a chart of days for the next 365 days, and on that 365th day they come to an end.

This has been going on for centuries—in fact, depending on where you live in the world, the Gregorian calendar has been the official time-keeping chart for anywhere from the 14th century to the 20th (Britain and her colonies adopted the calendar in the mid eighteenth century, changing from the astronomically inaccurate Julian calendar and shaving about 11 days off the calendar—the dates between 2 and 14 September, 1752, did not exist!)1

Calendars, then, are the inventions of men, a means of keeping track of the flow of day, both before and after the day we presently inhabit. They are based on time as measured by our planet’s rotations around the sun (years) and divided into relatively equal portions based on our planet’s axial rotations (days). Depending on how sophisticated our ability to read the heavens and calculate our solar and planetary revolutions, our calendars can be both crude and sophisticated, but all contain varying degrees of inaccuracy. Our own Gregorian calendar is inaccurate to the approximate tune of 6 hours per year or 24 hours in a four-year period. It is corrected by the simple expedient of adding a day (29 February) every four years.

Through the use of calendars man can appear to manipulate time by adding days (like Leap Year) or deleting days (like the Julian to Gregorian shift). You don’t really think an “extra” day comes into existence every four years do you? Or that those days in September 1752 actually disappeared? Well, they didn’t—we simply adjusted the way we are keeping track of time by adding or deleting days from our calendars in order for our calendars to stay relatively astronomically accurate. The cosmos keeps on functioning as it always has, regardless of how we choose to keep a record of it.

So, calendars are man-made and adjustable in order to keep them relatively accurate with respect to our annual circuits around the sun (each of which takes about 365.25 days according to the way we measure days). They also give us information about events that take place at given times, but these events are often dependent on location. Holidays, for example, are not universal: Thanksgiving in the US and Canada fall on different dates—even different months—and in the UK and Europe (and most of the rest of the world), Thanksgiving is not celebrated at all. The moon creates the tides and with knowledge of the moon’s phases and its rotations and around the earth, the rise and fall of the tides can be predicted.

We choose to measure time in the form years, broken down one year at a time into days and those subparts of days, hours, minutes, and seconds. We choose to number our years beginning at the time of the birth of a Middle Eastern teacher (something implemented by the Catholic Church centuries ago). And while there are other calendars that predate the Gregorian by millennia (Jewish, Chinese, Hindu, etc), they each end after a period of days and months, only to begin again with a new year, a new calendar, calculated and created by people who know how their calendar is formulated and distributed to those who follow it.

The end of one of these calendars is not perceived as cause for alarm. Nobody thinks that December 31 is the harbinger of doom because everybody knows that when December 31 comes to a close and the clock clicks over to 12:01 am, the world will not end, it will just become a new day—the first in the next new year. Why, then, do so many people take the end of the Mayan calendar later this year as the date which we will all cease to exist and the planet will disintegrate from beneath our feet?

The Mayan calendar, instead of covering a one year period of time, encompasses a 5000 year period And, between the passage of time and the virtual obliteration of the Mayan priesthood by the Conquistadors, it’s pretty safe to say that the guys who created the Mayan calendar are long dead and didn’t have much of a chance to train up some apprentices to take over the job. Would we be so convinced that the world was about to end if it was the Gregorian calendar came up to its last day and nobody around knew how to create a new one? Do we think that time has stopped when our watches stop functioning? My computer’s clock suddenly went crazy a few weeks ago when we had a lightning strike in the back yard—it kept counting the same couple of hours over and over again, never changing the date, never going later than 7 pm or earlier than 5: should I have taken this as a sign that we were repeating the same two hours of the same day ad infinitum, a la Groundhog Day?

Perhaps those who have convinced themselves that December 21, 2012 is the end of the world rather than just the end of a calendar that, sadly, cannot have a sequel as the technology for creating the next 5000 year instalment has been lost in the mists of time, could apply a little critical thinking as noted in the paragraph above. The calendar, after all, is merely a tool created by man, a tool infinitely adjustable, endlessly renewable, which ends at the time its cycle comes to an end. It is the calendar that is ending, not the cosmos or the world.

1 http://www.hermetic.ch/cal_stud/cal_art.html

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