Happy New Year!!
Our greetings are sincere; we wish the best for our colleagues, partners, and friends. Intent is important. However, even the most sincere greetings, when unaccompanied by a broader mindset of cross-cultural awareness, can come out sounding neocolonialist, disrespectful or just plain ignorant.
Most non-Chinese know that Chinese New Year often happens in February and is based on a lunar calendar. Many non-Jews are aware that Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish new year, and that it usually occurs around September. But what about other nations, cultures and traditions: when do they celebrate their new year? And how can we demonstrate cross-cultural sensitivity when we wish to express appropriate New Year’s greetings?
The first step is to recognize our own Lens, our own cultural filters. A “happy new year” greeting focused on January 1, 2013 is based on the Gregorian calendar, use of which was ordered by Pope Gregory XIII in 1592. Even Protestant Europe was slow to adopt this calendar, but over the centuries it has gained widespread use to become today’s de facto international standard. Most countries in the world now use it as their sole civil calendar, with exceptions including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. Countries that use another official calendar alongside the Gregorian include India and Israel. To detach the Gregorian calendar a bit from its Roman Catholic roots, it is also called the civil calendar or Common Era (CE) calendar.
Having a recognized international standard is a major change. Thirty-five years ago, when I first started working with a telex machine in Japan, I had to convert dynastic dates to CE dates as part of my daily tasks (I also used a HUGE kanji typewriter that provided me a daily physical workout, prior to the advent of word processing). Now, the general acceptance of the CE calendar is a sign of how much cultures that did not traditionally use the Gregorian calendar have adapted in order to more easily collaborate. Of course, another point of view is that this adaptation shows the success of the Christian colonialists imposing their standard on the rest of the world.
Either way, there is a great need for those of us comfortable with the Common Era calendar to learn a bit about other world calendars, to gain a basic knowledge about and be able to communicate respect for them. Thus, the second step in building cross-cultural competence is to develop our curiosity and knowledge about world calendars.
While the CE calendar is in popular use, alongside it and sometimes instead of it people around the world use solar calendars, lunar calendars, lunar-solar calendars, arithmetic and astronomical calendars. You may see dates you don’t recognize in newspapers when you travel, or in official government or religious documents. Non-Gregorian dating is commonly used to determine holy days, holidays and festivals in many of the world’s traditions. These local, regional, and religious calendars are frequently used to report birth and death dates, and major life and world events. It can get confusing for the international traveler or global nomad, not to mention the unwitting blogger or small business person with an Internet site! There are seven billion people on our planet, and according to my quick calculations, fewer than 10% have primarily used a Gregorian calendar for even most of my lifetime.
How can we navigate the multitude of calendars in our world? Surely we can not be expected to understand or be fluent in all of them. How can we show sensitivity, respect, and a bit of knowledge, rather than arrogance, ignorance, or insult? The third step is to bridge the differences — to understand and learn to work with our partner’s or customer’s traditional calendar.
6 Tips for Partnering with People Who Use
Calendars Different from Yours
- Remember that the Common Era calendar is not the only calendar in the world.
- Realize that it’s origins are in western Christianity. Avoid the use of “BC,” which refers to “before Christ,” and “AD,” the Latin term Anno Domini. Instead, use “BCE” (Before the Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era).
- Do a bit of research about your major customers and partners. What are their spiritual practices? Their ethnic backgrounds? Where are they based geographically? Once you’ve done your homework, you’ve acquired a very basic level of cultural literacy regarding possible calendars your colleagues might use.
- Ask them. Asking how an organization and a community dates documents, and how they calculate and observe holidays, shows that you know there are many ways of doing things, that your way is not the only way. It demonstrates a respect for other traditions and helps to build relationships based on mutual trust.
- Respect your colleagues’ holidays. If you are told that business closes on certain days, don’t try to undo centuries of tradition. I have so often seen this error committed during my career. An executive insists that employees work on a day that is usually a holiday, as the organization is on a deadline. In the short term, this strategy may be successful. But the long-term negative consequences, in terms of lost loyalty and reputation are immeasurable. Better to focus on outcomes: how can we meet this deadline? Brainstorm with your employees and partners to find mutually acceptable rather than unilateral ways forward.
- Offer New Year’s and other holiday greetings as appropriate to your colleagues’ traditions. That usually means that a New Year’s greeting on January 1st will be well received, and often means that another greeting, on their calendar’s New Year, will be even more special. Make a note in your calendar to jog your memory. Such a practice is a solid and frequent reminder that our way is not the only way.
While far from a complete list, I did some research to produce a bit of a guide (below) to some of the world’s calendars in current use. Please note any corrections in the “Comments,” and we will edit as needed. Thank you!
- Bahá’í (Badí‘): The year 170 BE in the Bahá’í calendar will begin on March 21, 2013 (spring equinox), the 1st (or Bahá) of the month of Bahá in the year Abhá. The Baha’i calendar begins with Bab’s declaration in 1844.
- Chinese (Mainland): The first day of the year of the Snake 4711 will be February 10, 2013. Legend has it that the Emperor Huangdi invented the calendar in 2637 B.C.E.
- Chinese (Republic, Minguo): January 1st will bring in the year 102 in Taiwan, Kinmen and Matsu. The calendar began in 1912, the year of the founding of the Republic of China.
- Coptic (Alexandrian): The Feast of Neyrouz or New Year’s 1729 AM (Anno Martyrum or “Year of the Martyrs”) was September 11, 2012.
- Eastern Orthodox (Julian): The first day of the year 2013 was on December 19, 2012. It may be worthwhile noting that both Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th (not December 25th).
- Ethiopian (Ge’ez): Enkutatash, or the new year 2005, began September 11, 2012.
- Hebrew (Jewish): The year 5773 began on the 1st of Tishrei (the 7th month in the Jewish calendar), or September 16, 2012 — Rosh HaShanah, the day Adam and Eve were created. The Jewish calendar has another New Year’s, the 1st of Nisan (the first month). It will be on March 12, 2013, and is used as the new year to order the holidays. It is seen as the anniversary of the founding of the Jewish people.
- Indian National Calendar (Saka): The 1st of the month of Caitra, year 1935, will fall on March 22, 2013. The current Saka era began in 78 CE.
- Indian Popular Calendar (Vikram Samvat): The year 2069 will begin the first day after the new moon in the month of Chaitra, April 11, 2013 — Hindi New Year. In the Gujarati tradition, it began on the day after Diwali, on the 1st of kartak or November 14th. The calendar was created by the Emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain following his victory over the Shakas in 56 BCE.
- Indigenous, First Nations, and Native Peoples: There are many communities and much diversity worldwide. A lunar calendar is generally used and the year revolves around the seasons.
- Islamic (lunar Hijri): The year 1434 AH began on the 1st of Muharram, November 15, 2012. The Islamic calendar begins when Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE.
- Japanese: January 8th will bring in the 1st of the year Heisei 25, which began when Emperor Akihito took the throne in 1989 (year one).
- Mayan: A new baktun or cycle begins December 22, 2012.
- Persian (solar Hijri): March 21st, or the 1st of Farvadin, will greet the year 1392 SH. It is determined by the spring equinox. Norouz or Persian new year has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is rooted in the Zoroastrian tradition. The calendar marked its beginning in agreement with the Islamic calendar based on Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina (Hegira). Due to the Persian solar adjustment to the Islamic lunar Hijri calendar, the year count between the two calendars has diverged.
- Thai (Suriyakhati): January 1st will bring in the Buddhist year 2556 of the Thai solar (legal) calendar.
Two handy calendar converters:
Readers, we look forward to hearing you tell us about your New Year’s. What greetings do you prefer, and when? How do you celebrate?
Whichever calendar you prefer, the Cultural Detective team wishes you all success, health, and joy!
Thank you Dianna, and best wishes for 2013! In my experience, people like to receive wishes now, and again at their own new year, such as Chinese new year or Tet…
Thank you for sharing your experience, Marie-Therese. I so look forward to the holidays that bring us reconnection with loved ones as well as a bit of slowing down, some time for reflection. Our world has sped up so very fast. I trust this season will bring you some of that, and much joy, Marie-Therese.
Thanks Diana for such a wonderful information, I too wish to share some facts about Jain New Year ( Jain is small religious community in India with motto of “Live and Let Live”, non violence is its USP) Jain community celebrates its New Year in Shukla Pratipada, first day of brighter half of the fortnight in the month of Kartik ( falls usually on next day of Diwali) . Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankar attained salvation (Nirvana) on this day ,Jain community celebrates New Year by saying prayer and offering Nirvan (salvation) Laadu (sweet) at Jain temples
Thank you very much for sharing with us more depth and specificity, Anupma! It is most kind of you. We are glad to know you are joining us here.
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