It is true that there is no single unit of measurement, but at least four to count the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun: the Julian or calendar year, the sidereal year, the mean tropical year and the anomystical year. It is also true that whatever the system, it is always time for renewed hope.

By Aram Aharonian

Ever since I was a child, I have always wondered why we change the year if our life remains the same: did inequality and injustice end and we will not pay the odious foreign debt? Did neoliberal exploitation end and now we defend the planet and the climate? Or did pandemics and confinements end? No way!

We are told that 31 December is the last day of the Gregorian calendar, the pattern of 365 days (plus one in leap year, like 2020) that has governed the West since the Julian calendar was discontinued in 1582. Its passing celebrates the end of a cycle that has marked the reckoning of time for various cultures for millennia: one complete revolution of the Earth around its star, the sun.

There is no doubt that the date on which a year begins and ends is not based on science, but is a convention, a system, “invented”. Assuming that the year ends at midnight on 31 December and begins on 1 January is a social construct, a definition that was made at a point in history.

The day and the year (as defined today) have their foundation in the motion of the Earth on itself and around the Sun. They are the building blocks of a solar calendar. However, the month is a unit based on the motion of the Moon and forms the basis of lunar calendars.

Since the basis for measuring a year is the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun, the counting of when that cycle begins and ends can, in practice, occur at any time. And since the Roman emperor Julius Caesar put it into effect in 46 BC, the Julian calendar served to count the passage of years and history in Europe until the late 16th century.

But early in the Middle Ages, several astronomers realised that this way of measuring time resulted in a cumulative error of approximately 11 minutes and 14 seconds each year. And so, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII promoted the reform of the calendar we use to this day and introduced leap years to correct the miscalculations of the Julian calendar.

The truth is that there is no single unit of measurement, but at least four units for counting the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun: the Julian or calendar year, the sidereal year, the mean tropical year and the anomystic year. The Julian year is a convention and is used in astronomy as a unit of measurement in which the Earth is considered to go around the Sun in 365.25 days.

The sidereal year is the time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun with respect to a fixed reference system. In this case, the fixed star group is taken as the reference and the year is 365.25636 days. The mean tropic takes into account the longitude of the Sun’s ecliptic, i.e. the path of the Sun in the sky with respect to the Earth throughout the year, mainly at the equinoxes, which lasts a little less than the sidereal year, 365.242189 days.

And, finally, the anomalistic year indicates that the Earth, like the other planets, moves in ellipsis. That ellipsis makes the Sun sometimes closer and sometimes further away from the Earth. But there is a point where the two are as close as possible, the so-called perihelion. And the anomalistic year is the time between two consecutive passes of the Earth through its perihelion. It lasts 365.2596 days

This is all very sobering. But perhaps we should appreciate that every 31st December is an opportunity to spend it with family, with friends, hoping that this time, in this new year, our hopes will blossom.

Writers and the New Year

Many promises are made in the New Year, but very few are kept. In order not to get completely discouraged, it is advisable to consider the thoughts of these writers on the night of 31 December.

For example, Mark Twain published an article in 1863 saying that “this is the acceptable time to make the usual good resolutions every year. Next week you can pave the road to hell with them again, as usual. Yesterday everyone smoked their last cigarette, drank their last drink and said their last swear word. Today we are the example of a perfect community.

“New Year is a harmless tradition, of no particular use to anyone except as a perfect pretext for promiscuous drinking, friendly phone calls and silly resolutions. May you enjoy them with the ease befitting the grandeur of the occasion,” he added.

G.K. Chesterton, for his part, commented that “the aim of the New Year should not be to have a new year. It should be to have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, new back, new ears and new eyes. Unless that particular man made New Year’s resolutions, there would be no New Year’s resolution. Unless a man starts entirely from scratch, he will do nothing effective”.

Charles Bukowki, in his poem “Palm Leaves”, said that “The end of the year always terrifies me… life knows nothing of years”. And Oscar Wilde noted that “Good resolutions are simply cheques made out to a bank where there is no account”.

The Spanish poet León Felipe lamented: “What a pity if this life of ours had – this life of ours – a thousand years of existence! Who would make it bearable to the end? Who would bear it all without protest? Who reads ten centuries of history and does not close his eyes when he sees the same things always with a different date? The same men, the same wars, the same tyrants, the same chains, the same phonies, the same sects, and the same, the same poets! What a pity, that it is always like this, always in the same way! What a pity!”

I wish

And closer to us, Eduardo Galeano left us his “Wishes for the New Year”:

“-I wish we were worthy of the desperate hope.

-May we have the courage to be alone and the courage to risk being together, because a tooth out of the mouth is useless, nor a finger out of the hand.

-I wish we could be disobedient, whenever we receive orders that humiliate our conscience or violate our common sense.

-If only we could be so stubborn as to go on believing, against all evidence, that the human condition is worthwhile, because we have been badly made, but we are not finished.

-may we be able to keep walking the windy paths, despite the falls and the betrayals and the defeats, because history goes on, beyond us, and when it says goodbye, it is saying: see you later.

-May we keep alive the certainty that it is possible to be a compatriot and a contemporary of anyone who lives animated by the will for justice and the will for beauty, wherever they are born and whenever they live, because the maps of the soul and of time have no borders.

If only. And so as not to abandon convention and good habits, but to make the tortilla turn, Happy New Year …And let’s redouble our hope!