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Published: Jan 4, 2006
A New Year: A fresh start, no matter when

For most local residents, New Year's Day has already come and gone. But for Steve Liu, a local resident of Chinese descent, one New Year won't roll around until Jan. 29 — that is the start of the New Year on the Chinese calendar this year.

"It's a big reunion," said Liu of the Chinese New Year.

Liu, a member of the Cary-based Triangle Area Chinese American Society, did not grow up in China, but spent his youth in a Chinese community in the Phillipines before coming to America.

Different dates for New Year's Day can be found all around the world. In parts of the Middle East, the New Year will dawn even later. The Iranian New Year, called Norouz, is celebrated on March 21, signifying the spring Equinox, according to www.persia.org.

The start of any New Year is really about perspective — and the culture watching the clock.

Time may seem universal, but throughout history, cultures have measured it differently, marking the passages of years at different times, different lengths and with an array of customs and beliefs. Here in the Western world, New Year's day falls on Jan. 1 thanks to the 365-day Gregorian calendar, a tropical solar calendar decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, according to the Web site of The World of Astronomy.

But the calendar actually has much deeper roots.

The Gregorian calendar is a modification of the Julian calendar, which was introduced by that famous Roman Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.

The calendar had a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months and a leap day added to February every four years.

Both the Gregorian and Julian calendars are tropical solar, based on the length of time it takes for the sun, as viewed from Earth, to return to the same position along the ecliptic — its path among the stars on the celestial sphere.

Other calendars, like that used by the Chinese culture, are lunisolar, or a calendar whose date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. Other calendars, like the Muslim calendar used throughout the Islamic world, are solely lunar, according to en.wikipedia.org.

And a host of other calendars and customs exist in between.

In Thailand, New Year's is called Songkran and celebrated every year on April 13 to April 15, according to en.wikipedia.org.

In Ethiopia, the New Year, called Enkutatash, is celebrated on Sept. 11. And next September for Ethiopians, it won't be 2006, but 1999 instead, since the Coptic calendar Ethiopia follows is about seven years behind Western calendars, according to www.selamta.net.

In other parts of the world, the date of New Year's day changes each year.

The Chinese New Year occurs every year at a new moon during the winter. The exact date can fall anytime between Jan. 21 and Feb. 21 on the Gregorian calendar, according to en.wikipedia.org.

In the purely lunar Muslim calendar, Muslim holy days, although celebrated on fixed dates in their own calendar, usually shift 11 days earlier each successive Gregorian calendar year, since the 12-month lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, according at en.wikipedia.org.

This year, Jan. 31 will mark 1427. Last year, Feb. 10 heralded 1426. In today's globalized world, many cultures, such as parts of Asia, might observe more than one New Year — using the Jan. 1 Western New Year for business and government practices, but still celebrating the festivities of their older, cultural New Year.

However, no matter when and how a new year is celebrated, a year's beginning seems to bring about the same period of reflection, resolutions to live better and a desire to be with family in cultures throughout the world. Liu, 50, said that along with very specific traditions like folk dancing, the Chinese New Year's celebration is really about spending time with family.

Ameer Qraeish, a worker at La Shish restaurant in Cary, grew up on the other side of the globe in Palestine and celebrated New Year's on a different day, but he too said the dawn of a new year was mainly about being with family.

For Brian Ashby, a 30-year-old who grew up right here in Cary, New Year's is also about spending time with family, along with a few resolutions he hopes to keep this year, including to "stop smoking."

Ashby works in the often-packed Food Factory restaurant on East Chatham Street. He said the period of reflection offered by the start of a New Year has become especially important in a culture increasingly fast-paced, when everyone is crunched by time.

"I think it helps people put things into perspective," Ashby said.



Contact Beth Hatcher at 460-2608 or bhatcher@nando.com