Doesn’t seem fair, does it - that we get to celebrate New Years twice a year. First time around: family, gefilte fish and presents. Second time around: friends, cocktails and smooching at midnight. Officially, there is only one New Year in Israel - the Jewish New Year which falls sometime in September. Just as, “officially”, we have one calendar - the Hebrew Calendar ;-)
- what day, month and year is it today according to the Hebrew
Calendar? Okay, while you try to work that out in your head, or look it
up on the Internet, I will move on.
Hebrew Calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning that things - such as
Hebrew holidays - shift around, when trying to synchronize them with the
Gregorian Calendar (you know, the one we use every day). So sometimes
the High Holidays (New Years, Yom Kippur, Succot...) come earlier in the
year and sometimes later.
This does cause schizophrenia among Israelis at times. Especially when it comes to birthdays.
say that you were born on the 20th of Elul, 5747 - which fell on the
14th of September, 1987 according to the Gregorian Calendar. Which date
do you now celebrate your birthday on? The chances of the 20th of Elul
falling exactly on the 14th of September again is slim, or sporadic at
best. So unless you expect to receive presents on your birthday twice a
year, you are going to have to decide - the Hebrew calendar or the
Gregorian one. If you were by chance born on a holiday (New Years, first
day of Hanukah... but not something somber like Yom Kippur), the choice
is easy. It will be easier for people to remember your birthday
according to the holiday, even if it jumps around the Gregorian calendar
every year. So, Hebrew calendar it is. But if you were born on just an
ordinary Hebrew date, such as the 20th of Elul, 5747, the chances of
friends and family remembering that date, let alone converting it to the
Gregorian calendar, are slim. There go the presents. Like it or not,
the 14th of September will be much easier to remember. You can’t have
your birthday cake and eat it too - although you may still try. “Yes, my
birthday is today on September 14th,” you say, opening yet another
present, “but it is really on the 20th of Elul”.
when people say that you will be paid on the 10th of every month, or that
rent is due on the 1st of every month, I don’t ever remember this
referring to the Hebrew months.
although we measure over 90% of our daily affairs according to the
Gregorian Calendar, Israelis continue to have a love affair with the
Hebrew Calendar. Why? Because it is ours. We are embedded in it and it
is embedded in us. Much like the Hebrew language, although Hebrew is
much more entrenched into our daily consciousness, even though it almost
lost out to German when plans were being made for the revival of the
State of Israel. At the time, the idea of reviving a language which
hadn’t been used in daily life for two thousand years must have seemed
rather daunting. I mean, look at all of those things that had been
invented and conceived of since - Mein Lieber Gott - how do we give them
names. One could become almost meshuganeh. But it was done, and Hebrew
has become a modern and linguistically rich language - although it has
borrowed heavily on Anglicisms in the process.
let us return to the Hebrew and Gregorian calendar, and subsequently -
the “Jewish” and “Gregorian” New Year. If Israelis can manage peacefully
with the two calendars, why should two separate new years be a problem?
It’s not as if we are requesting the Gregorian New Year to become a
national holiday so that we can sleep off the hangover from the night
before. But the celebration of the Gregorian New Year on New Years Eve
is considered problematic by many, even viewed as a sacrilege by some.
So much so, that hotels have been threatened in the past with having
their Kosher certificate taken away if they allow New Years Eve
celebrations in their establishment.
Why all the fuss?
is apparently the culprit. And I’m not referring to the cat in Looney
Tunes (“I tawt I taw a putty cat.”) - the only Sylvester I knew of
before moving to Israel. No, we are talking about an anti-semitic Pope
from back around 325 C.E., who not only was proclaimed a Catholic Saint,
but was also awarded a day of his own by the Catholic Church: Saint
Sylvester Day, which falls on December 31. Which also happens to run
into New Years Eve. Somehow a connection was made between the two. In
Israel, the Gregorian New Years Eve is even called “Sylvester”. In my
first year in Israel, as January 1st approached, I kept hearing about
the evils of celebrating Sylvester. “What does New Years Eve have to do
with a pussy cat?” I asked. “No, you don’t understand. We are talking
about an anti-semitic saint who lived about 17 centuries ago.” “Oh,” I
answered, “What does New Years Eve have to do with an anti-semitic
saint?” I never really received an answer to that. Except for the fact
that Saint Sylvester Day falls on the same date (and I imagine that we
can find many other things that fall on that date), I don’t really see
the problem. New Years Eve, for most people I know, is a time for
getting together with friends and celebrating the coming in of the new
year. Marking time, marking friendship, hoping for a year that is better
than the one that came before.
a time for New Years resolutions. You know, those things that we swear
by and never carry out. (You can read more about this in a former blog
post of mine - Taking the “new” out of New Years.
) Here we Israelis can have more fun and cheat. Not only can we make
new years resolutions on the Jewish New Year, but we can test them out
before reaching the Gregorian new year a few months later. Then we can
either continue on with them, toss them aside and make new ones, or toss
out the idea altogether. Now, who can have a problem with that?
you have seen, in many of my former blog posts, how schizophrenic I can
be in being both Canadian and Israeli and in speaking both Hebrew and
English. And now we can also see how easily schizophrenic Israelis can be,
simply because of a small matter of a calendar. (And I am just touching
the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Israeli schizophrenia. Don’t get
me started.) Now, take this Israeli schizophrenia and mix it into my
own Canadian/Israeli split personality, and what do you get. I don’t
know what it is, but it certainly is messy.
Happy New Year!