Which New Year?

[I wrote the following piece for Brunei Times for the New Year 2008. I thought it is still valid for the New Year 2010. Happy Reading.]

TODAY is the first day of 2008 AD or, to be all-inclusive 2007 CE ("Common Era") since AD stands for the Latin expression Anno Domini — "in the year of our Lord", in reference to Jesus Christ. As the Oxford Dictionary pointed out, "AD" refers strictly to "the Christian Era".

So — if you're not a Christian, why were you singing the old Scottish song "Auld Lang Syne" (written by poet Robert Burns and published in 1796) to celebrate the "New Year" last night?

In the Middle Ages, even the Church was against celebrating new years, calling it paganism. It was not until only about 400 years ago that the beginning of the AD new years were celebrated.

Even then, just as now, not everyone celebrated the same New Year. Celebrating the New Year has always depended on which religion or culture one belongs to.

The Muslims will not be celebrating the New Year until the 8th January, which marks the first day of the sacred month of Muharram and the beginning of the Hijri year 1429. The Jews will celebrate their Rosh Hashanah to mark the new year of 5769 in September. The Chinese for the Chinese New Year 4706, the Korean for their Seollal and the Vietnamese for the Tet will not be celebrating until February 4.

The Sri Lankans will celebrate their Aluth Avurudhu and Puththandu in April and a host of other cultures will celebrate their new years at different times of the year — Iran, March 20 for Norouz; Tamil, April 13 for Vishu; Telugu, March for Ugadi; Thai (for Songkaran) and Cambodia (for Songkan) on April 13; Bengali, April 14 for Pohela Baisakh; and Gujarat in October, a day after the Diwali festival, unlike all other Hindus who will celebrate the New Year on the Diwali itself.

If you study the history of the calendar, even celebrating the New Year on the 1st of January is a bit off. The Gregorian calendar we are using today was based on the old Roman calendar and originally it only had 10 months: December stands for the decimal 10 and the original months derived from Latin, hence September (the seventh month), October (the eighth month) and November (the 9th month). So New Year was on March 1st!

However, as the years went out of sync with the season, the months of January and February were added. Even this did not keep up, and additional leap months were added from time to time to keep the calendar in sync with the four seasons.

In the olden days, celebrating the New Year was not always done on January 1. Some did it on December 25 (Christmas); some, on March 25 (Feast of Annunciation); some on the first Friday of April (Easter); some maintained it on March 1 as well as a number of other dates. As in today's multicultural and multireligion world, the first of January did not always mark the beginning of the New Year.

The "New Year" brings out the animal called "New Year Resolutions". I will be off to the gym sometime later today or maybe tomorrow, where I will see one of the manifestations of these "resolutions".

I have been going for the last three years — not that it has done much to reduce my waistline, but at least it improves my blood circulation. As usual, this January I shall be seeing many new members — all with new-year determination of keeping fit — and with the crowd I will, for sure, lose my favourite parking spot.

By February, some will continue to come but by March, I will get my parking spot back. The thrill of making New Year's resolutions of keeping fit will be gone for most of the new gym members.

New Year's resolutions sound so good when you make them. But keeping them is the hardest. Why? It's always the reality of reaching those goals. It's harder than you imagine. One reason is that we make them when we are down at the end of the year and we need something to look forward to, to make up for what we thought was abysmal laxity. But why is it so hard to maintain the resolutions?

A lot of the failures are because of the target settings that we chose. We give up because some of the New Year's resolution did not produce an overnight change — lack of results. This is because there was a lack of planning. Making lasting or permanent changes in life requires planning.

We set unrealistic goals when they should be specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and trackable. Reality is very mundane.

So that's the New Year. I might not say "Happy New Year" just yet. Maybe I will say it on January 8 or February 4 or any other days — depending very much on who you are.


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