“Okay, I’ll bite. Why are you wishing me a Happy New Year when we already celebrated the New Year on January 1?”
Excellent Question, Grasshopper. (Historian settles in for a lengthy chat.) The January 1 date is completely arbitrary, a result of the introduction of the Julian calendar in 45 BCE.
“Could you answer my question without presenting a 50 minute lecture?”
You exaggerate. I can answer your question in less than five minutes.
“I’m setting the stopwatch on my smart phone. Go.”
Did you know the ancient Romans held a festival for Saturn, an agricultural god, on December 17? The event expanded to cover five days, then seven. It was the most popular event of the year. That’s why the early Christian Church set Christmas on December 25, so new converts would not feel excluded from the fun and games. Of course, Christian celebrations were more moral.
“Seconds are turning.” (Yawn.)
You want to know when the “new year” begins. Got it. A new year can begin on any day. It could start tomorrow. But it wouldn’t be the New Year with capital letters. Roman political leaders were a bit mischievous. Their term of office lasted a year, but there was no fixed length to the months. A leader might lengthen or shorten the year to suit himself. Until Julius Caesar came back from the African campaigns. He decreed 46BCE would be two months longer than usual so he could align time into long months of 31 days and short months of 30 days and February which was extra short and expandable during leap years.
I can hear you. (Exasperated) The first day of the official New Year is January 1 because that’s the day when Roman consuls took office. The Christian Church adopted the Julian calendar, later changed it to the Gregorian calendar, but kept January 1. And thus it has ever since, encompassing the entire known world, just as Caesar planned.
Yesterday, February 10 started the new lunisolar year known as Chinese New Year. Celebrations continue for fifteen days ending with the Lantern Festival. This is the Year of the Snake.
“I don’t like snakes.”
Have you ever met one? Snake people are good to have around. They are intelligent, analytical and graceful. They like the good things in life. They like wealth.
Wealth means different things to different people. Snakes like sumptuous luxury.
“One minute. Will we get rich this year?”
Maybe. Some think the Snake will encourage economic recovery.
“Why did you put a picture of tangerines at the top?”
That’s a new question. You can’t count it in the five minutes. Did I make it?
“Yes. This proves you don’t have to go into every teeny tiny detail to answer a question.”
I like to be thorough.
“Can you briefly tell me about the fruit.”
I shall be succinct. Tangerines and oranges invite luck and wealth, because the Chinese word for tangerine sounds like the word for “luck”, and the word for orange sounds like “wealth.” As an added bonus, bright orange is a color associated with gold.
“So, luck + wealth + gold = prosperity.”
I didn’t know you could do math.
“Is the red envelope a replacement for plastic shopping bags?”
Better. These small paper containers hold lucky money. Red is an auspicious color. Lots of Chinese New Year decorations are red and gold – all to attract health, wealth, and happiness. And, it’s biodegradable. Where are you going?
“To buy tangerines.”
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.