Learn About Calendars from Various Cultures

From the beginning of organized civilization, humans have always had a need to organize and document time as well as plan for future dates. Calendars, by their very nature, allowed people to plan and order events as well as a way to communicate about the events relative to one another. Calendars originally primarily revolved around agriculture or religious occurrences, and many ancient calendars were based on the phases of the moon or other natural phenomenon.

Mesoamerican Calendars
The ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica primarily developed calendars and calendrical systems to organize and schedule religious rituals and social events. While each culture had its own system, many used a ritual calendar with seemingly no correlation to any type of lunar, solar or agricultural cycle. The most well known of the ancient Mesoamerican calendars are the Mayan and the Aztec calendars.

Jewish Calendar
The Jewish calendar is considered an ancient calendar, but it is also still used for religious planning within the Jewish community and, in fact, serves as the national calendar of Israel. This calendar is based on solar and lunar patterns as well as many other complicated factors and cannot be predicted in advance from year to year. It typically uses 12 months, although a leap month is added approximately every third year depending on weather patterns.

Islamic Calendar
The Hijiri calendar used by Muslims for religious purposes is a lunar calendar, with each month beginning when the moon is first spotted in Mecca after a new moon. This means that any Islamic calendar that is printed in advance is merely an estimate and cannot be considered 100 percent accurate. This tradition is based on the Islamic sacred text, the Quran, which requires proper observance of religious rituals according to this calendar. Because it is based on lunar patterns, the Islamic year is made of 12 months but is somewhat shorter than a traditional calendar.

Chinese Calendar
The Chinese calendar is one of the oldest calendars still in use, with tradition stating that it was invented in 2637 B.C. There is record of it dating back to at least the 14th century B.C. It is still used in China and in Chinese communities worldwide to determine the scheduling of social and cultural holidays and festivals. The Chinese calendar is solar and lunar in nature, and is based on observations of the longitude of the sun as well as the phases of the moon. It typically has 12 months, with a leap month added every several years.

Indian Calendar
In 1957, a group known as the Calendar Reform Committee was formed within the Indian government to establish a National Calendar of India. The resulting calendar aligned the Indian leap years with the leap years of the Gregorian calendar although it does retain traditional Indian month names. The start of each month is based on lunar phenomenon and does not align with the beginning of the Gregorian months.

Zoroastrian Calendar
Zoroastrians use 3 different calendars, with a certain level of controversy about which is accurate. These are the Fasli, the Shahanshahi and the Qadimi calendars. In all 3 calendars, each day is observed in honor of a specific spiritual being, and certain prayers are offered for that being. Sacred days occur when the month and the day are both presided over by the same being. The most popular Zoroastrian religious calendar is the Shahanshahi, also called the Shenshai.

Native American Calendars
While many tribal groups in North America had their own versions of a calendar, they had a few things in common. These calendars were primarily agricultural in nature, and the year typically began in the spring. New growth and the budding of plants was considered a new beginning my many Native American cultures, and this was honored through their calendar systems.

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