Re: [XTalk] New Year
- To: Crosstalk
In Response To: John Staton
On: New Year
Thanks to John for his kind message; it is much appreciated at this address.
I note however that, by the dilatory among us, it may be received with
something like chagrin, since we have still not addressed all our intended
Christmas cards, and here it is, the last day of the year. Orientals like to
have all their debts paid, and their obligations cleared, by the end of the
year. For those sharing that sensibility but having a hard time meeting that
deadline, there is always Twelfth Night (6 Jan), the end of the old
protracted Christmas. But even that may not be enough for the most stubborn
What I would like to share with others, accordingly, as a really efficacious
fallback position, is the solar year, the year that plants observe. This is
standardized in Chinese folk practice, and also among the European
peasantry, though not much of that understanding percolates up to the level
most of us in the West live at, any more (except maybe among the witchcraft
sects). The Chinese folk year begins with Spring: not its midpoint (the
equinox), but the point at which you are nearer to the spring equinox than
you are to the winter solstice. This falls about 5 February, dependably,
Can we objectively prove the validity of this date, as a true year beginning
point? Yes, even we who have no closer contact with the plant world than a
pet amaryllis or a windowsill begonia. Here is what those in the north
temperate zone can observe for themselves: 5 February is the point at which
you take your amaryllis out of the closet and start watering it. It is also
the point at which (regardless of whether it is cold or mild outside) your
windowsill plants start to grow. Fertilize them.
And now we understand Groundhog Day. It is an omen of the severity or
mildness of the coming first half of spring. March is probably going to go
out like a lamb, in all but the most malign of years, but what about the six
weeks preceding, when the work of the plantworker is beginning, but it is
uncertain how to pace it against the unpredictable weather?
Many Oriental calendars are lunar/solar mixtures. The solar component of the
Chinese calendar is the one closer to the soil. I recommend it for its
reality. Ritual lunar calendars get in trouble with planting and harvesting,
unless they compensate or intercalate somehow.
Anyway, whenever people plan to get their 2008 cards in the mail, I join
John in wishing everyone the best of 2009. However defined.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst