Happy New Year's Day!

>> Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year's Day. It's now 2008 in the Eastern Standard Time zone. Elsewhere, it's been the future for hours: in Greenwich, England, it was next year five hours ago (or more by the time you read this). Meanwhile, out on the Pacific coast it's so last year.

Or is it? We note the passing of days to measure the passing of years, but they represent different axes of the world's motion: the Earth slipped into the same position it was in 365 days and five (or six) hours ago independently of how far the planet had spun on its polar axis. Or perhaps it hasn't quite slipped into that new position, and I'm noting the completion of an orbit a little early.

I was walking home from Boudreaux's--I went out to dinner after all, and had a nice steak au poivre with potatoes au gratin and an inexpensive merlot, it was delicious and reasonably priced--and wondering to myself why the new year falls in midwinter. It was a rhetorical question: the point was that it's really an arbitrary kind of thing, a historical accident that we (in the West) use a January 1st that's almost two weeks after the solstice instead of using late January to mid-February or mid-December, mid-June, mid-March or mid-September.

There are all sorts of ways you could make a calendar more logical, and thereby inconvenience everybody, especially if you're willing to chop off a few heads while you're at it. The real lesson, however, may be that the meaning of "new year" is a matter of perspective. "The sun," as the old song goes, "is the same in the relative way, but you're older...." The universe hasn't changed all that much, but you'll need a whole new stack of the little pieces of paper you use to keep track of roughly where the Earth is located in relation to an arbitrary point in space I'll bet you didn't even know you'd picked out of the black, about 66,660 miles back thataway (as of the final submission of this post at one a.m.; you might need to multiply that by the hours since midnight January 1, 2008, depending on when you get around to reading this...).

Happy New Year.


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