The new year in numbers around the world

One of my son's classmates spent the last semester studying at a school in Ethiopia. She recently returned to their second-grade class and was barraged with a wide-range of questions about her time in the foreign country - the ones only seven or eight-year-old minds could phantom to ask, of course.

When my son came home from school, he announced that it is the year 2006 in Ethiopia. Of all the many differences between the two countries, cultures and schools that could have stuck in his mind, the eight-year difference between our calendar, which follows the Gregorian calendar, and the Ethiopian calendar is what most stood out to him.

The Jewish calendar switched over to the year 5774 back in September, and Chinese New Year will soon herald in the start of the year 4712. In both cases, our calendar years are separated by more than thousands of years. That's why I was fascinated by the fact that the Gregorian and Ethiopian calendars are off by just a few years.

Calculating calendar years across the globe

According to Scholastic.com, the origins of the new year can be traced back to the ancient Greeks who marked its start with the new moon after June 21. Before the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman New Year began on March 1. During the Middle Ages, most European countries celebrated the new year on the day of the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25.

The start of the new year changed when countries began to adopt the Gregorian calendar, which is now the most widely used civil calendar and recognized by the United Nations. The solar calendar has 365 days divided into 12 months with 28 - 31 days each. It has a leap year of 366 days ever four years and omits three leap days every 400 years.

Most Western European countries changed the start of the year to January 1 right before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. Spain, Portugal, France, Southern Netherlands, Venice and the Dutch Republic officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582. England, Ireland and the British colonies did the same in 1752. China adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912 and Russia adopted it in 1918.

A closer look at the Chinese, Jewish and Ethiopian New Years

In China, some public holidays relate to the Gregorian calendar while others relate to the Chinese calendar - including Chinese New Year. The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar. Most years have 12 months. Leap years have 13 months. Years with 12 months have 353 - 355 days, and leap years have 383 - 385 days.

The Chinese New Year usually falls between the end of January and middle of February. This year, the Year of the Horse (4712) begins on January 31. According to the Epoch Times, the Chinese calendar dates back to 2600 B.C., when the mythical Yellow Emperor started the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac and named an animal to represent each year in the 12-year cycle.

The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so the first day of each month originally begins with the start of the new moon. According to Judaism 101.com, the Jewish calendar year represents the number of years since creation, something also addressed by an older Los Angeles Times article. The Jewish New Year is celebrated on the first two days of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. On the Gregorian calendar, the holiday usually falls between September 5 and October 5. Last year, the holiday  and the year 5774 began at sunset on September 5. In 2014, the new year will start on September 25.

Of course, one of particular interest to my son and his classmates is the Ethiopian New Year or Enkutatsh. The first day of the new year in Ethiopia falls on Meskerem 1 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is September 11 (or September 12 during a leap year) on the Gregorian calendar. Historically, the date was selected based on the timing of the end of the "rainy season." According to Wikipedia, the Ethiopian counting of years starts on the eighth year of the common era.

Interested in finding out more about when different cultures, countries and religions ring in the New Year? You can find detailed lists on HappyWink.org, Stumblerz.com, and Scholastic.com. Vercalendario.info provides a helpful set of matrices for each month of the 2014 Gregorian calendar for use in comparing dates to those on the Julian, Jewish, Indian, Persian, Islamic, and Ethiopian calendars.

Appreciating and celebrating yet another difference among us

My son's realization of the difference between the Gregorian and Ethiopian calendar years taught all of us something new, which is particularly relevant to us as we gear up to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Chicago.

Having looked at the calendar of New Year celebrations around the world, it's nice to know that practically ever day is a virtual celebration of the people, cultures of religions found around the world. And, It's just one more thing that helps us appreciate and understand other holidays and traditions.

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