The turning of the year is always a time we treat ourselves to a new round of self-reflection and self-flagellation for what we have done and what we have not done. It’s a good time to take stock and make plans. But resolutions are flighty beasts. If you create them, do so with an eye towards success rather than suffering.
All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation. This has the feeling of both.
—G’Kar, Babylon 5
Blame the Romans for emphasizing this act of two-faced reflection, this looking forward and looking back. Along with roads, sanitation, and language, they also gave Europe and the New World a workable calendar. Some tweaking was required; the original “Romulus” calendar was ten months long and began in March. Legend credits King Numa Pompilius — the dude in charge sometime after Rome’s foundation but way before the Republic and Julius Caesar — with adding two more months to help bring the lunar and solar year into synchronization. The new year was moved to start a week or so after the winter solstice on January 1st in a new month dedicated to Janus, the god of doorways, the god of looking forward and looking back. Continue reading “Facing forward, facing back”
Midweek since the time change, I’m still not sleeping properly, waking in the middle of the night and dozing until suddenly it’s later than I should be up, and I drag out of bed, logy and bleary-eyed. Yesterday was 3-14, a calendar quirk that’s labelled Pi Day on our Gregorian-driven pages, a day of no significance but a fun day for the mathematically-amused.
In movies, clocks show time passing, calendar pages falling, seasons changing with sped-up elapsed time. Why don’t we see other metaphors—for example, how often are rulers used or tape measures? We move through time and space, but we seem to take no notice of space. We are comfortable with granting the importance of spatial distances, but when it comes to time, we want to see it measured. By instinct, we feel time all around us, whether we are forever noting the digital clock readout of our phones all day, feeling the seasons pass, or obsessing about our age, it’s as if time sits like a bird on our shoulder.
If we are saving daylight, when do we get to spend it? Many of us grew up with Daylight Savings Time, so it’s hard to imagine that the practice is relatively recent and didn’t catch hold in the mid-1970s U.S. Energy Crisis. Even then, some places like Arizona still choose not to participate, and the starting dates have shifted around nationally, moving to a different day in the year just a decade ago. While the extra hour of daylight in the evening favor those who work inside all day, farmers and those who put on evening entertainment oppose the process. For example, dairy farmers know that the cows don’t want to be milked an hour earlier just because that’s what the clock says. Continue reading “Our Days Are Numbered”
Today is a week from Ash Wednesday, six days before Shrove Tuesday for the English, a day before Schmotziger Donnerstag (Greasy Thursday) for the Germans, and a few days after Quinquagesima Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent. Shrovetide starts roughly after the Christian Feasts of the Epiphany, the Epiphany marking the day when the Magi visited baby Jesus. Ash Wednesday then begins the days of fasting and self-denial for Lent. The forty days of Lent represent the forty days that Jesus wandered in the desert which lead into Easter, the day of Resurrection.
All of this marks the week leading up to Mardi Gras, a celebration where the Germans have sausages and sauerkraut for luck, the Lithuanians burn an effigy of winter, the women of Bourbon Street throw beads, and the samba music in Rio cranks up to full rhythmic energy for Carnival. Continue reading “The Gospel Tumbled Rhythmic in the Dryer”
The origin of April Fools’ Day is kind of like April Fools’ pranks themselves. If you read through the history, it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. The celebrated tradition of pranking might have started as part of a festival to praise the humble OR it might have been a way to ridicule a captured enemy before his execution or – no, wait – it was because some people got confused about when to celebrate the new year.
It might have started in France. Or maybe England. Or Rome. For certain. Maybe. It’s kind of hard to say…
According to Infoplease, one convincing explanation was provided by Joseph Boskin, a Professor of History at Boston University. He linked the practice to the Roman emperor Constantine, when a group of court jesters told Constantine that they didn’t get enough respect and could do a better job ruling the land. The emperor decided to appoint a jester named Kugel as king for the day, and Kugel took the opportunity to pass an edict created an annual absurdity day. When Boskin’s story was widely reported in 1983, it sounded convincing. But, as it turned out, he was just being feisty with an Associated Press reporter who wouldn’t take “I dunno” for an answer to “Where’d the tradition start, professor smartypants?” So as a joke he’d made up the story and used the reference to “kugel” because the reporter was in New York and he thought, well, everyone in New York eats kugel, don’t they?… When the AP fellow asked him to spell “kugel,” he wondered if the joke would be taken seriously. It was.