Lunchtime Doubly So

English: Nabta Playa calendar in Aswan Nubia m...
Calendars. Useful for predicting the seasons. Visibly less effective at predicting climate.

Great start. The first day of the year, and I didn’t post until well after midnight. This is mostly due to the fact that I was up until all hours last night celebrating. But if we took this nonsense seriously, wouldn’t we have an early night on New Year’s Eve and start the thing right? Because we don’t, each new year begins in failure.

I’ve made many successful resolutions. I’ve given up more vices than a lot of people ever manage to cultivate. But not one of these vows was made on a New Year. They were made when I actually had a real desire to change my life, and the inner strength to make it happen. Which, funnily enough, didn’t often¹ occur on a set calendar date during the coldest, darkest, wettest time of the year.

Calendars were our first real computational devices, and helped our ancient ancestors herd and farm successfully. (The illustration is from Nabta Playa in southern Egypt, though the similarity to stone circles dotted all over Ireland is obvious.) Naturally they became endowed with religious significance; the cycle of the year as metaphor for the cycle of life, death, and birth. But the thing is, it is just a metaphor. The calendar is a way to predict the seasons, no more. The arbitrary start of the year is not sacred or mystical, there is absolutely nothing special about this day.

That’s my excuse anyway.

 

  1. Actually I did give up smoking in an early January, but that was pretty much a coincidence. Story for another day.

Nabta_Playa

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8 thoughts on “Lunchtime Doubly So

  1. I’m not 100% sure, because I might be a day off, but 31st of December _is_ actually significant in the sense that it’s the first day when the sun comes up earlier. The 21/22nd of December is of course the winter solstice, which means that every day thereafter until summer has more daylight, but the first week or two, this is accomplished by the sun setting relatively later than that it still takes to come up.

    I mean, that’s worthy of celebration, right?

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      1. I’m not saying it’s based on that.

        Just pointing out that there might be something significant about it. And it would make sense for the start of the year to not actually coincide with the winter solstice itself, if one purely bases such a decision on sunrises.

        The factual part shouldn’t be too hard to verify (whether it’s the 30th or the 31st), but the problem is that I haven’t been able to find a table of sunsets that’s accurate to the second, rather than the minute.

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  2. …table of sunrises, rather.

    By the way: I’m not sure what you think is a myth, whether the winter solstice and date of latest sunrise are not the same, because that’s a scientific fact, which you can verify by the simplest of observations.

    Whether that’s the reason why the calendar starts where it starts (even if it’s give or take a day)? I never claimed that. Just pointing out there might be _some_ significance to the date where we celebrate a new year starting.

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    1. You’re missing the point there. I was arguing against celebrating any day as a new year day, because the cyclicality we perceive is meaningless. The weather changes, that’s all that really happens. The rest is reading-in.

      By a myth, I meant the idea that the winter solstice and date of latest sunrise are not the same. If it is a fact as you claim, then surely it’s merely because the definition of midnight we’re using is an approximation?

      It’s interesting though that there might be a genuine reason for the end of the month being different from the solstice, rather than just accumulated fudging.

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      1. From Wikipedia:

        The date of the solstice is not the same as the date of the latest sunrise and both are not the same as the date of earliest sunset. Because the Earth is moving along its solar orbital path, for each solar day the Earth has to do more than one full rotation. Because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical, the speed at which the Earth moves along its orbit varies.

        There’s a few other things influencing stuff here as well, but the gist is In order to avoid having “long days” (up to 24 hours and 30 seconds in summer and winter) and “short days”(reverse) in fall and spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) we simply average time to “24 hours a day” and then even add a full day each 4 years to keep our number of rotations in check with the _actual_ orbit around the sun. (Leap year). The latter means there’s even more shifting of when the solstice and latest sunrise are…

        Another interesting thing is that latitude influences date of latest sunrise. The lower your latitude, the bigger the offset between solstice and latest sunrise:
        See also: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~strous/AA/en/antwoorden/zonpositie.html#15

        Since we’re using the Gregorian Calendar, established by the Catholic Church, I’m running on the assumption that they were used to thinking in terms of the latitudes of Europe, or more specifically: Rome, which of course was the centre of the universe. It’s even slightly lower in latitude than the Netherlands, so it might even be that date of latest sunrise there is usually one of the first days of January, as this year, I found out, it was Dec. 30th in the Netherlands
        Source in Dutch only (KNMI): http://www.knmi.nl/cms/content/22497/kortste_dagen (this year being the year before a leap year).

        Then again, it might not have been a factor, and Pope Greg just pulled his shifting of January out of his arse. Seeing as the most important holiday in Catholicism is Easter, he might have been more focused on putting that on the right date than bothering with a good time to start the year. Then again, considering how much of a clusterfuck the actual timing of Easter ended up, he didn’t quite do a good job there, either, imho.

        As for the myth:
        Don’t you mean rather that the cyclicity is the point? Since a circle has no beginning or end?

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  3. Damn. Your blog ate my long-winded reply.

    Baiscally: you don’t have to look much further than the Wikipedia to read way much more than you’d ever want to know about solstice vs. date of latest sunrise.

    Also, I agree on the meaningless, but for a different reason, namely exactly because years are cyclical. A circle has no beginning or end. (But wouldn’t that also mean that we are allowed to celebrate EVERY day as the beginning?! Whoooo!)

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