The Lunisolar Year

The Lunisolar Year

In Western civilisation, the Mesopotamian lunisolar calendar is uncommon but in many cultures—to give a few: Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese—have used this calendar which indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.

 

 A Japanese lunisolar calendar called Tenpou was used until 1872. In this calendar, the first day of the year is the second new moon after the winter solstice (winter solstice is fixed in the eleventh month). This Lunisolar calendar has a leap month every two or three years, otherwise known as an embolismic month. 

In China today, they still celebrate the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month in this year. During the festival, children go to temples and figure out the riddles on their paper lanterns. The lanterns used to be simple and plain (ornate ones saved only for the emperor and noblemen) but now they come in complex designs or shaped like animals. They can symbolise letting go of past selves to make room for a new one. This festival is advertised as the Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s Day.

 

 

Mongolian’s call the New Year Tsagaan Sar which is one of the most important holidays. The family’s burn candles at the altar to represent Buddhist enlightenment. Their holiday greeting roughly translates to “Are you living peacefully?” and people exchange gifts. During the White Moon festival, Mongols perform the zolgokh greeting with their elders, grasping them by their elbows to show support for them.

 In Korea, on New Year’s Eve (Seotdal Geumeum), the people celebrate by staying up all night long with the doors open to receive ancestral spirits. The New Year is a three day holiday where most people go to spend time with their families or perform a ritual called Charye which is similar to a memorial service where Koreans visit the tombs of their ancestors and trim the grass off the tombs. Then, they offer food, fruits, and wine, and finally make bows in front of the tombs.

Shortly after this, the holiday Daeboreum (literally- Great Full Moon) celebrates the first full moon of the year. A familiar custom is to crack nuts with one’s teeth to keep one’s teeth healthy for a whole year. In the countryside, people climb mountains, braving cold weather, trying to catch the first rise of the moon. 

It is said that the first person to see the moon rise will have good luck all year or a wish will be granted. Historically, people played the traditional game named Jwibulnori the night before where they burned the dry grass on ridges between rice fields while children whirled around cans full of holes, through which charcoal fire blazed. These cans fertilized the fields and got rid of harmful worms that destroyed the new crops.

Equinoxes occur when the axis of rotation of the earth is parallel to the direction of motion of the earth around the sun. This happens on just two days of the year, the spring and autumn equinoxes. This means that day length is exactly the same at all points on the earth’s surface on these days.

 

The Lunisolar Calendar takes into account the longest and the shortest days and the two days each year when the length of the day equals that of the night. In other words, the significant days are the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice as well as the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.

In Summer Solstice, Northern Island have a ‘Day of Private Reflection’ to acknowledge the conflict there. This was proposed by cross-community organisation ‘Healing Through Remembering’. The occasion sought to look toward a peaceful future, while reflecting on the violence of the past.

Also celebrated in Summer solstice are Midsummer (St John’s Day/Lithia). Ancient Romans held festivals to honour the god Summanus. In Denmark, since Viking times it has been celebrated by visiting healing water wells and making a bonfires to ward away evil spirits. Today, the water well tradition is gone but bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are held.

In pagan mythology, the spring equinox is called The Harvest. To celebrate the coming of spring, modern Pagans offer up tables of wine, flowers, and phallic symbols made of food to Dionysus, God of fertility, wine, flowering plants, poetry and theatre. The autumn equinox is called Mabon, or Second Harvest. It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness. Some Wiccan rituals for Mabon include building an altar with harvest fruits and vegetables, meditating on balance, gathering and feasting on apples, offering apples to the goddess, sharing food, and counting one’s blessings.

China and Vietnam celebrate the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on the full moon nearest to the equinox. On a lunar calendar, that is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The Moon Festival is full of legendary stories. Legend says that Chang Er flew to the moon, where she has lived ever since. You might see her dancing on the moon during the Moon Festival. The Moon Festival is also an occasion for family reunions. When the full moon rises, families get together to watch the full moon, eat moon cakes, and sing moon poems.

China and Vietnam celebrate the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on the full moon nearest to the equinox. On a lunar calendar, that is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The Moon Festival is full of legendary stories. Legend says that Chang Er flew to the moon, where she has lived ever since. You might see her dancing on the moon during the Moon Festival. The Moon Festival is also an occasion for family reunions. When the full moon rises, families get together to watch the full moon, eat moon cakes, and sing moon poems.

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