News

Fact/Fiction: Is it really 2019?

Old news, truthfully retold. Is it really 2019? There are plenty of calendars out there that say otherwise...

How it was told

The clock strikes midnight and you embrace the nearest friend/family/partner/stranger and raise the nearest glass of fizz to a toast.

Auld Lang Syne breaks out and the sounds of Jools Holland and Hogmanay fade into the background. It’s new year, time to ring in 2019 and hope it’s a better year than 2018. But is that true for everybody? No, we don’t mean the New Zealanders letting off the fireworks 12 hours before us. There are plenty of other calendars and for the people who follow them 2019 is just a number.

Facts. Checked. 

While we follow the Gregorian calendar – as does most of the world – it may not be too much of a surprise that things are done a little differently in North Korea.

Pyongyang switched to the Juche calendar in 1997, basing the years on founder of the democratic republic Kim Il-sung’s birthday in 1912. How modest. That year is designated as Juche 1 which makes 2019 actually 107 while Kim’s birthday is known as the Day of the Sun and is considered the North Korean equivalent of Christmas.

Armenia also eschews the Gregorian calendar and will be wondering what all the fuss is about while we let off the midnight fireworks. They celebrate new year on their equivalent of July 11 and is also a spring chicken with the year at a mere 1467. That’s down to the calendar kicking off in 552 and having a no leap year rule, meaning that its correspondence with the Gregorian calendar changes over time.

Still with us? OK, we’ll pivot to the Julian calendar instead. This one’s dead easy – it’s just 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. Why, you ask? Power-hungry Julius Caesar didn’t much fancy the Roman calendar – which underpins the Gregorian and Julian – and wanted to keep it in line with the tropical year. So he made 46 BC 445 days long to compensate and here we are, although it is almost no use to anyone but the Eastern Orthodox Church and a variation on it used by a North African ethnic group called the Berbers.

Perhaps the most well-known deviation comes in China, where they will be letting off the fireworks on February 5 to celebrate the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. However, China officially switched to the Gregorian calendar in the early 20th century while the traditional calendar now governs holidays.

It is a similar story for the Islamic Lunar Hijri calendar, with 1441 AH set to run until August 2019, although Iran and Afghanistan officially favour the Solar Hijri calendar. This begins in March and has the current year as 1397 AH with Iran using it since the 1979 revolution. Ethiopia has its own official calendar, which begins on September 11 each year and is 13 months long. It also serves as the base of the church year in Eritrea too.

The Gregorian calendar also casts its shadow across Buddhist countries, with the Buddhist calendar restricted to religious or official occasions in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand as well as Sri Lanka and segments of the populace in Malaysia and Singapore. It is based on an older version of the Hindu calendar, using a lunisolar cycle that sees the months based on lunar months and solar years used as the basis for the years.  AM 5779 in the Hebrew calendar may run until September 29 2019 but it too is being phased out by the Gregorian calendar, with uses now restricted to Israeli agriculture and religious purposes. So Happy New Year to you – whatever year it is and whenever it starts!

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