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WorldTempus Newsletter
Editorial - A Calendric Dilemma

Editorial A Calendric Dilemma

A life of globalisation can lead to interesting perspectives of the passage of time.

Today is Monday, the 20th of January in the year of our Lord 2020. Or is it? It’s also the 23rd day of Tevet, 5780, in the Hebrew calendar. It’s also the the 24th day of Jumada Al-Awwal, 1441 in the Hijri, the Islamic calendar. And it’s also the 26th day of the 12th month of the 4717th year in the Chinese calendar. 

Today is not just one day — it can be many days, depending on who you are or where you live. It’s odd, because we’re all so familiar with a standard calendar and a standard system of time-telling, whether we’re talking about the hours of the day or the months of the year. That is to say, we use mean solar time and we use the Gregorian calendar. But time is a far more fluid construct than we make it out to be.

This is the last week of the year in the Chinese calendar, which means that all over the world, the Chinese diaspora will be tidying their houses, preparing their business affairs (it’s considered horrifically bad luck to start the year with any unpaid debts), making plans to visit friends and extended family members, and — most importantly of all, because food is at the core of Chinese culture — conducting lavish multi-generational family dinners with tables laden with symbolically important dishes. 

Most people are acquainted with the idea that there is an animal associated with each year in the Chinese calendar. There are 12 of these animals, and they cycle through one every year in a particular sequence. This comes in very handy sometimes for those of us familiar with the Chinese zodiac cycle; all you need to know is someone’s zodiac animal in order to determine the year they were born in. Someone tells you they’re born in the year of the Rat, for example (the upcoming Chinese zodiac year), you can probably figure out if they’re 12, 24 or 36 years old.   

In the horological world, the advent of a new Chinese year means that we see a mini-deluge of timepieces that celebrate the Chinese zodiac animal. Sometimes, we have animals that are conventionally seen as noble or mighty. Such as the tiger, or the horse, or the dragon (the one imaginary animal in the entire zodiac, which I never understood the reason behind). Other times, we have rather incongruously low animals, such as the rat or its predecessor, the pig (people try to make it sound a little more elevated by calling it a boar, but a pig is a pig, all right).

This makes for some rather interesting watch dial executions, as (mostly) Swiss manufacturers try to portray some frankly rather unpleasant animals in aesthetically pleasing ways. Of course, these animals don’t always have the same associations in Chinese culture. Continuing with the example of the upcoming zodiac animal, people born in the year of the Rat are seen to be curious, highly intelligent and energetic. They certainly do not root around in other people’s trash.  

Keep an eye out our article on Chinese New Year watches, coming out later this week. And to our readers (Chinese or otherwise), let’s all look forward to a year of curiosity, intelligence and great energy!