Alistair Martin’s rambles (39)
By Kathy Martin…
Written December 2013
I have often wondered why 1st January is regarded as New Year’s Day…
The obvious answer is, of course, that it is the first day in the widely used 12 month Gregorian calendar, which is an improved and more accurate version of the Julian calendar, which was introduced in 46BC during Julius Caesar’s rule.
Is there any religious or astronomical significance attached to 1st January? Do any other calendars, religious or secular, have a fixed date for the start of the new year?
January is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god. In this concept two-faced has nothing to do with bitchiness, but simply the ability to look behind, as well as ahead. My mother, along with Janus, had this ability!
When I was young, she always used to say “I have eyes in the back of my head”! Despite being told by people, with an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy that this is impossible, judging by the number of times that I was caught being mischievous, I remain convinced that she had!
To get back to the original point, 1st January has no significance other than Janus’s ability to look forward to the New Year, as well as back to the old one.
In my opinion other “New Year” dates, both in history, as well as those that are still in use, have more practical significance.
Firstly, in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England, New Year’s Day was 25th December! This was nothing to do with the alleged date of Jesus’ birth, but simply that the Winter solstice had passed and the daylight hours were getting noticeably longer. Therefore, winter was coming (however slowly!) to an end and spring and a new planting season in a New Year was approaching.
In the Islamic calendar, New Year’s day (Turkish: yılbaşı) is always on the first day of Muharran, starting at sunset on the previous day to sunset on the 1st of Muharran. However the calculation of the start of Muharran is a variable, based on lunar and/or astronomical observations. As countries with (mainly) Muslim inhabitants stretch from North Africa to Asia, the Islamic New Year can differ by up to two days!
Here I must insert a slightly non-relevant “aside”. Until 1925 (Gregorian calendar) Turkey used the Islamic calendar. However the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) decreed that the Gregorian calendar would be adopted. Apart from fixing New Year’s Day to 1st January, Turkish residents went to bed one night only to find that they had aged some 578 years when they woke up the following morning! Beat that Rip van Winkle!
In Asia and the Orient both the Indian and Chinese calendars are (as one may expect) in wide use. In both these calendars New Years Day is a variable date.
In China, Vietnam, Japan etc, New Year falls on the second (very rarely the third) new moon, after the winter solstice. This astronomical event occurs between 21st January and 20th February.
The Indian sub-continent used to have around 30 different dates for the New Year. The reason for this was not only the different religions in the region, but also variations in lunar and astronomical observations caused by the vast distances between the East-West and North-South boundaries. However, all of the “local” New Year days are moveable and again related to the planting season.
So, as far as my research has taken me, the only “fixed date” New Year’s Day is in the Gregorian calendar. Perhaps the Romans, with their widespread empire, wished to avoid the variable New Year’s Day situation that occurred in India as detailed in the above paragraph? The widespread use of the Gregorian calendar is a relic of the now defunct Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese empires.
Written January 2014
The other day we fell into conversation with a couple of British holiday-makers who, like us, were sitting huddled inside a cafe in the cold and damp! Apart from being very disgruntled that their travel agent had assured them that Cyprus is a “winter sun” destination, they rather excitedly told us that they had found out that King Richard 1st (of England) had been married in Cyprus. This we knew, and also that he was the only English monarch to be married outside England.
All very interesting, but where is this leading? Well, it started me off on a train of thought! Popular history and Hollywood’s swashbuckling movies (especially Disney!) have glamorised him as “good” while his younger brother and successor, King John, “bad”. Are these descriptions deserved?
Having been educated in Rhodesia, where the history syllabus concentrated on colonial history, my knowledge of English monarchs and their deeds is very sketchy, so I started to dig.
Richard was crowned King of England in 1189, but left there in 1190 to join the Third Crusade in what is now Israel, never to return during his lifetime, he died in 1199. Richard was a very good military commander and tactician, strolling around this part of the world, killing a lot of Muslims, and (presumably just for variety) the occasional Christian.
In 1191 Richard conquered the Island of Cyprus. This was brought about by accident, as a part of his fleet that was on its way to Acre, was forced to beach here due to a storm! One of the ships carried Richard’s fiancé, who was taken prisoner and held hostage by a despotic ruler, Isaac Konmenos. In response Richard arrived later with the rest of his fleet and proceeded to conquer the island. He married Berengaria in what is now Limassol.
During his 10 year reign between1189-1199 King Richard spent only about 10 months in England. In those days there were no “instant” methods of communication, E-mails, video conferences or cell phones etc. Therefore, his ability to have any up to date information about his kingdom, on which he could act, was non-existent.
During the crusade he used the revenue that he gained from English taxes (as well as the other Duchies in which he was an overlord) to support his army.
The paragraph above shows that he had a disregard amounting to utter contempt for his subjects and was therefore a “bad” king!
He spent the last 5 years of his life living in the South of France. When one compares the English weather with that of Southern France, it shows that he may have been a “bad” king, but he certainly wasn’t stupid!
“Bad” and “weak” King John, on the other hand inherited, (in 1199) a country that had had very little money spent on its domestic infrastructure for a decade. The treasury was almost empty as the English taxpayer and church had to pay the ransom of 150,000 marks (about £2billion today!) to release King Richard from captivity. Admittedly this happened in 1194, but as it was 2-3 times the annual income of the crown, the road to recovery was a very long one!
King John remedied the situation by introducing many judicial reforms, many of which are still in use today in English statute law. Unfortunately for King John, one of these reforms took the raising of taxes away from the barons transferring this right (and also payment) direct to the crown! Deprived of a ready source of income at a local level the barons revolted and started a civil war, taking control of many towns and cities.
Deprived of some of the “English” armies, John raised a force from Poitou, France, which effectively caused a stalemate in what was a civil war.
The result of the mediation process that took place at Runnymede is the Magna Carta, which both sides negotiated from a position of strength.
It has been hailed as a magnificent human/civil rights document, but in reality it only affected the crown, nobility, church and freemen, it didn’t affect or improve the lot of the majority of the population of England, the serfs and “un-free” labourers!
So was John a “bad” king for England? In my opinion “not as bad as he’s painted”, or under Scottish law “not proven guilty”!
Was Richard a “good” king for England?
I leave this subject with the following two popular historical impressions.
- King Richard is remembered for going on a Crusade, which had no benefit to England – indeed, it failed in its objective to capture Jerusalem!
- King John is remembered for the Magna Carta, which has had, in the long term, a great impact on English law.
Now something that has to both my wife and I been a bit of a puzzle. During the years that we have lived here we have, on a number of occasions, seen what appear to be Philipino (Philipina?) young women waitresses in various cafes and restaurants.
We have absolutely no objection to being served by a person of any nationality, religion or creed. Our query is why travel (literally) halfway around the world to be a waitress?
Are the wages that good? Of course not, if they were, the Turkish-Cypriot women would be waitressing! Mind you, as the first rung in the career path of a Turkish-Cypriot in the commercial world is “vice president”, they would all be known as “vice -president waitresses”!
Sorry, I got rather carried away with my little rant at the end of the above paragraph, so back to the subject in question.
The other day we went to Bellapais for lunch, on one of those lovely winter days, when the sun shone on a windless day and, suitably attired, it was very pleasant to sit outside on the balcony.
For the information of readers, unfamiliar with Bellapais, it is the village and area that surround the “Abbeye de la Pais”, an abbey founded in the early 13th century by an order of French Augustinian monks after they were expelled from Jerusalem. The abbey, set in a picturesque location between the mountains and sea, is very well preserved and a magnet for weddings as well as tourists! It is also the village where Lawrence Durrell wrote his book “Bitter Lemons”, which is about life in Cyprus.
As Bellapais is a “tourist trap” we expected to pay inflated prices, and we were not disappointed! We were, however, very disappointed in both the quantity and quality of our meals. To revert (again!) to the subject, the service provided by our Philipina waitress was excellent. There were very few customers on the balcony, so she had time to answer when we asked her why she had come to Kibris to be a waitress, as it must have been very expensive to get here?
She replied that her sister, (who had preceded her here by six years) had told her what a wonderful country this was. We agreed with this! Regarding her travel costs she only said that it took her two days to get here, but wouldn’t be pressed on the actual cost.
An acquaintance of ours, who became a widower a few of years ago, whom we occasionally bump into, recently married a Philipina woman in the Phillipines and returned to Kibris. She also loves living here, not only because of the climate, people and way of life, but mainly because she feels so “safe”! Apparently, most of the commercial and financial centres in the Philippines have a level of violence and gangsterdom that exceeds Chicago in the Al Capone era!
Our curiosity about people from the Philippines was sparked by a situation that arose in Hastings in the UK, where we lived for some years before emigrating here. A new multi-ward, multi-theatre hospital had been built. However, there was insufficient nursing staff available in the area to meet its needs.
The National Health Service (NHS) initiated a local and worldwide search. The best, and cheapest option, was to import around 30 suitably qualified nurses from the Philippines! As these nurses would have had their travel costs paid for, and, no doubt other financial benefits, this migration is understandable.
However, we both think that for these waitresses to use their own capital to travel “half way around the world” to work in a comparatively low paid job is a very long-term money making scheme.