A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Showing posts with label calendars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label calendars. Show all posts

Friday, January 10, 2014

So, Is Berber New Year January 12 or January 14?

Just when you thought the holidays were finally over, more are about to hit: Amazigh ("Berber") New Year, and also by coincidence this year the Prophet's Birthday, Mawlid al-Nabi, both in the next few days.

But in the case of Yannayer, the so-called Amazigh New Year, there's some disagreement about the date, with some in Algeria celebrating on January 12, and others insisting on January 14.

Now, as I've explained at greater length a couple of years ago, Yannayer is part genuine traditional observance, and part a modern creation, a product of the contemporary Berber Revival. North African farmers traditionally followed a solar calendar or planting, since the Islamic calendar,being purely lunar, moves around the seasons and cannot be used as a agricultural calendar. This is the practice throughout the Middle East: In the Levant the old Syrian months are used, and in Egypt the Coptic calendar. North African agriculturalists kept the nmes of the old Roman months and followed the Julian calendar; New Year's is called "Yannayer," from "January." The Julian calendar is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, so the Julian New Year falls on January 14 under the Gregorian calendar.

Amazigh Flag
But many of the trappings of the modern Berber celebration are what the late historian Eric Hobsbawm called the "Invention of Tradition," modern creations aimed at reviving national identity. This includes the fact that this new year will be 2964 in the Berber Calendar. This calendar was a creation of the Académie Berbère, a group of young intellectuals, mostly Algerian Kabyles, who introduced the common Berber flag often seen today and popularized he use of the ancient Tifinagh alphabet to write Tamazight; it was somewhat arbitrarily decided to date th Berber calendar from 950 BC, when Pharaoh Shoshenq I ascended the throne of Egypt. Shoshenq (or Sheshonq) was Libyan, and that was good enough to persuade the Académie Berbère to consider him the first Berber in history. So the era does not really date from 950 BC but from Paris around 1968 AD.

And apparently the tendency of many Algerian Amazigh to celebrate Yannayer on January 12 instead of 14 also dates from 1968, though it isn't clear why the two-day difference from the Julian calendar occurred; some accounts suggest a simple error in calculation, though as Eastern Christmas jusy reminded us, many religions and cultures retain the Julian calendar for some purposes. Maybe it was the political ferment in Paris in 1968, or something, but the January 12 date seems to have stuck for some Algerian Amazigh, while elsewhere the January 14 date is followed. Given the post-2011 revival of Amazigh identity in Tunisia and Libya, which last year held a big concert for Yannayer, they also obsrve the holiday formerly limited mostly to Morocco and Algeria.

A happy new year to Amazigh readers, on whichever date you prefer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Technical Notes on the Great "Thannukahsgiving" Convergence This Year

Most of my American readers probably know this already, but my foreign readers (even my Canadian readers who celebrate Thanksgiving in mid-October and on a Monday to boot for reasons understood only north of the 49th parallel) may not be aware of it yet, but this year the US Thanksgiving holiday coincides with the first day of Hannukah. This has not happened since 1888 and this precise combination may or may not ever occur again in the foreseeable future depending on some variables. (Our present rules for dating Thanksgiving only date from 1942, and before that the variables were different. Under the present rules, even 1888 wouldn't count.)

As this post at chabad.com, in an explanation called "Chanukah and Thanksgiving: A Brief History,"
puts it: 
Question:
Is it true that . . .

  • Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah this year,
  • it’s never happened before, and
  • it will never happen again?

Answer:

Yes, no, and maybe.
Now, Chabad is a Lubavitcher  Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement, and my Irish Catholic self is not about to argue with them on the finer points of the Jewish calendar. Nor do I think more liberal Jewish movements would disagree. and I know I should stay away from calendar issues. In 2012 I did a post called "Why are Eastern and Western Easter on Different Dates? Don't Expect to Figure it Out from this Post."

Despite the obvious caveat in the headline, I was taken to task in the comments, one beginning with
The Zonaras proviso is not a rule. It is an after-the-fact explanation for the inaccuracies of the Julian lunar calendar. If it were a rule, it would have precise mathematical content which would enter into the computation of Julian Easter. It has no such mathematical content.
And it went on from there. I have no doubt the commenter was right, and I will never try to sound authoritative about the Zonaras Proviso again. (Even if I still remembered what it was.) So I know I am risking abject humiliation if I pontificate about calendars, so I'm just going to assume the Chabad folks have the Jewish one more or less right (see another of their articles here and there are many others to be found around the Internet) and will talk more about the date of Thanksgiving. I'm fairly sure on that I can talk turkey.

I will throw in one clarification: The statement that this has not occurred since 1888 and cannot be certainly predicted in the coming thousands of years is technically true of the exact coincidence occurring tomorrow.when Thanksgiving exactly coincides with the first day of Hannukah. But Hannukah is an eight-day feast and Jewish religious days do not coincide with midnight-to-midnight Western days. Apparently, in 1899 Thanksgiving coincided with the fourth day of Hannukah, and in 1918 it coincided with the eve of Hannukah. Because Jewish days begin at sundown the night before and days are short in November, in 1918 the first candle could have been lighted before the turkey was carved. That coincidence is predicted to recur in 2070 and 2165, but there is no predicted recurrence of tomorrow's exact coinciding of Thanksgiving with the first day. Or so the Chabad folks say: complain to them if they're wrong; I couldn't even get the Zonaras Proviso right.

Thanksgiving also complicates matters. The date has moved around. In 1777 the Continental Congress proclaimed a Thanksgiving on December 18 after the victory of Saratoga. (December 18 is unthinkable today as it would leave only a week for Christmas shopping!) Various dates were celebrated thereafter.

Abraham Lincoln established the tradition of the last Thursday in November. But Thanksgiving still had to be proclaimed by a Presidential proclamation; it was not set in law. In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt used the fact that there were five Thursdays that November to proclaim it on the fourth Thursday instead of the last. With the country emerging from the Great Depression, Roosevelt hoped to extend the Christmas shopping season. In 1940 and 1941, each of which had the usual four Thursdays instead of five, Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving on the third Thursday.  His Republican opposition acted as if he'd moved Christmas to July; he was insulting the memory of Lincoln (Republicans still were proud of Lincoln then) and they dubbed the new date "Franksgiving."

Finally in 1942, Congress split the difference and passed a law making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of every November, which differs from the traditional date only when five Thursdays occur in the month. It was also the first legal codification of the date. A few states held out and Texas (always marching to a different drummer) celebrated the fifth Thursday as late as 1956 (accorfing to the Chabad calculations, giving it two more coincidences of Thanksgiving with the eve of Hannukah in 1945 and 1956).

To clarify, until 1942 Thanksgiving could occur as late as November 30 under certain circumstances. Since 1942 it cannot occur later than November 28, tomorrow's date.

Now the punchline: the only previous time tomorrow's exact coincidence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hannukah happened, in 1888, it was on November 29, 1888, a date that would be impossible under the 1942 law!

So, unless the date of Thanksgiving changes again (retailers would probably welcome a longer shopping season: but the vagaries of the Jewish calendar mean Hannukah will occur later and later into the Gregorian year), enjoy tomorrow's "Thannukahsgiving" convergence: you (probably if the calendars don't change) will not gaze upon its (precise) like again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Neirouz: Coptic New Year, 1730

Long before September 11, 2001, September 11 marked a less grim date: new year in the Coptic calendar. This is sometimes referred to as "Egyptian New Year" because the Coptic calendar, being solar, has long been used by Muslim Egyptians for agricultural purposes; the ancient Egyptian new year began after the height of the Nile flood, usually in August; the later Coptic calendar descends from the ancient one, and the first of the month of the Coptic month of Tut today coincides with September 11 in the Gregorian calendar. (And the month of Tut echoes the ancient Egyptian name Thoth, for the god of the same name.) Today marks the first day of the Year of the Martyrs 1730 (the Coptic calendar dates from the persecutions of Diocletian, not from the birth of Christ).

For unclear reasons, Coptic New Year is known as Neirouz, which seems to echo the Persian Nowruz which is in the spring. Some think an ancient "feast of the rivers" (Ni-Yarouou) somehow was conflated after the Arab conquest with the Persian word. Whatever the origin, a happy New Year to Copts (and those living by the Egyptian agricultural year).

It is also the Ethiopian New Year, by the way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why are Eastern and Western Easter on Different Dates? Don't Expect to Figure it Out from this Post

Middle Eastern Christians endure many hardships these days, but sometimes they joke that at least they get to celebrate two Christmases and two Easters. Today is Good Friday among Western Christians, and Sunday is Easter. The Eastern date for Easter can be the same as the West or vary by several weeks; this year it's a week later, with Easter on April 15.

Now the two dates for Christmas are easily explained: most of the Eastern churches (not all) use the older Julian calendar as their liturgical calendar, the West uses the Gregorian. The East celebrates Christmas on January 7 because, at the moment, there are 14 days' difference between the two calendars. It used to be January 6 (sometimes called "Old Christmas" in English speaking countries, which only made the change in 1752, whereas Catholic countries changed in 1582) As time goes on, it will shift to January 8, as the two calendars drift farther apart. That's not all that complicated.

Easter, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. The Julian/Gregorian calendar difference is part of it today, but the two halves of Christianity set up different mechanisms for calculating the date for Easter long before the calendar reform. Their differences were multiple, ranging from how they calculated the lunar cycle to how long a cycle it took for dates to repeat themselves; this sas further complicated with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

I was going to explain it thoroughly, but then I encountered passages like this, from Wikipedia, and figured, the hell with it:
In determining the date of the Gregorian and Julian Easter a lunisolar cycle is followed. In determining the date of the Jewish Passover a lunisolar calendar is also used, and because Easter always falls on a Sunday it usually falls up to a week after the first day of Passover (Nisan 15 in the Hebrew calendar). However, the differences in the rules between the Hebrew and Gregorian cycles results in Passover falling about a month after Easter in three years of the 19-year cycle. These occur in years 3, 11, and 14 of the Gregorian 19-year cycle (corresponding respectively to years 19, 8, and 11 of the Jewish 19-year cycle).
The reason for the difference is the different scheduling of embolismic months in the two cycles.
In addition, without changes to either calendar, the frequency of monthly divergence between the two festivals will increase over time as a result of the differences in the implicit solar years: the implicit mean solar year of the Hebrew calendar is 365.2468 days while that of the Gregorian calendar is 365.2425 days. In years 2200–2299, for example, the start of Passover will be about a month later than Gregorian Easter in four years out of nineteen.

Since in the modern Hebrew calendar Nisan 15 can never fall on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, the seder of Nisan 15 never falls on the night of Maundy Thursday. The second seder, observed in some Jewish communities on the second night of Passover can, however, occur on Thursday night.[citation needed]

Because the Julian calendar's implicit solar year has drifted further over the centuries than those of the Gregorian or Hebrew calendars, Julian Easter is a lunation later than Gregorian Easter in five years out of nineteen, namely years 3, 8, 11, 14, and 19 of the Christian cycle. This means that it is a lunation later than Jewish Passover in two years out of nineteen, years 8 and 19 of the Christian cycle. Furthermore, because the Julian calendar's lunar age is now about four to five days behind the mean lunations, Julian Easter always follows the start of Passover. This cumulative effect of the errors in the Julian calendar's solar year and lunar age has led to the often-repeated, but false, belief that the Julian cycle includes an explicit rule requiring Easter always to follow Jewish Passover.[58][59] The supposed "after Passover" rule is called the Zonaras proviso, after Joannes Zonaras, the Byzantine canon lawyer who may have been the first to formulate it.[60][61]
Ah, yes, The Zonaras proviso. So, even though the Eastern date of Easter always falls after Passover, there's no rule that says it has to; it's just the "cumulative effect of errors"? But wait, then what is the Zonaras proviso, if not a rule?

Anyway, the short answer is that the sun, the moon, the calendar, and the date of Passover all factor in, and the Eastern and Western formulas can give the same date, but more often don't. Since this year the Western Easter coincides with Passover almost exactly, the Eastern date has to be later, but only by a week.

Clear? Then could someone explain it to me?

Anyway, a happy Easter to anyone celebrating it, on either date. My Passover post will be along later today sometime.