A confused kid with 3 different calendars — Gregorian, Hijiri, Korean…
Happy New Year! It’s January 1, 2017 A.D., on a train breezing through a scenic view of this frozen winter wonderland of northeastern USA, where farmers farm, church bells ring, and moose cross roads over 365 (or 366) days a year. In the joyful spirit of celebrating this start of a new year, I reflect on my childhood and how confusing calendaring has been growing up in a Korean family in Saudi Arabia. Yes, hashtag this — TCK experience #tckexperience.
In this evermore globalized world of trade and cultural integration, the Gregorian calendar has dominated the world driven by mostly commercial reasons. However, several societies still maintain their own calendar system — about 9 different calendars seem to be still in use to this day. I grew up with three of those calendars — Gregorian (Western), Hijiri (Islamic) and Korean calendars.
Gregorian calendar — this is the most widely used calendar and we are celebrating the start of the new Gregorian calendar year today. It is solar-based, named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced this in 1582. The purpose was to adjust the mistake of Julian calendar (from Julius Caesar) with the length of solar year and it concerned Gregory that Easter celebration was being pushed further from Spring time… well… Spring time in Italy for… Christians.
Hijiri calendar — this is the Islamic calendar, a lunar calendar, that also has 12 months in a year with 354 (or 355) days. Until 2016, this was the official calendar of Saudi Arabia, used in official events and documents as well as to date Islamic holidays in Muslim countries. It is currently year 1438 AH, which started in early October 2016 of Gregorian calendar. The first year starts from when Prophet Muhammad immigrated from Mecca to Medina. Mecca and Medina are considered the two holiest cities in Islam, located in western Saudi Arabia near the Red Sea.
Korean Calendar — to make this world more interesting, the Korean calendar is not a pure lunar nor pure solar calendar like the Gregorian or Hijiri. Rather, it’s a lunisolar calendar ((((( ^____^ ))))) used by many East Asian countries, mostly derived from the Chinese calendar. What is a lunisolar calendar? I am guessing that some super smart ancient scientist came up with dates that have something to do with both the moon phases and the time of the solar year, from the perspective of Korea’s longitude. South Korea officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in late 1800s but Koreans continue to celebrate traditional holidays and older generation’s birthdays with the Korean calendar. For example, Koreans and many East Asians will be celebrating the new year a little it later (Jan 28, 2017), as we enter the year of Rooster! I am a rooster :-)
In addition to differences in calendars, Saudi Arabia (and many of the Muslim-majority countries) keeps a different workweek and weekend schedule. In the rest of the world, the weekend is Saturdays and Sundays. However, Saudi Arabia historically practiced weekends on Thursdays and Fridays. Only recently, in June 2013, a royal decree changed the weekend to Fridays and Saturdays.
The consequence of growing up with all three calendars and weekends? The Gregorian calendar dominated my everyday, day-to-day. From a young age, I quickly learned the difference of perspectives of time, even before I knew the concept of ‘perspectives.’ I also remember growing up feeling like 4 days out of a week (Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun) were like lost days, in a way that any productive communication halted between the western and middle eastern world. I lived with either a sense of sloth and missing out from the rest of the world or get caught up in workaholism and forget weekends. It felt like the two worlds were distanced and disconnected by the time perception differences. I welcome the recent shift of the weekend to Friday and Saturday in Saudi Arabia, as it brings the two worlds time perspectives a little closer and I’m sure the financial world appreciates it even more.
Other consequences I remember is never knowing the dates of my Saudi visa, as they are issued only in Hijiri calendar days without any reference to the Gregorian calendar, even though my plane tickets are issued in Gregorian. I remember when I was about 14 years old, my father completely miscalculated my re-entry visa expiration date from Hijiri dates and I had to stay alone in a foreign country while waiting for a renewed visa.
As a result of the Korean calendar, nobody knows exactly when my parents’ birthdays are. In South Korea, my parents’ generation and older, everyone’s birthdate is recorded according to the Korean “old” calendar. We tried to celebrate on the same date as on Gregorian calendar every year but they say it feels off, which is true. We’ve also tried to celebrate on the Korean calendar date, converted into Gregorian in the year of Korean birth year. After a long family meeting and reaching such a decision, we might have told a few people about it. Then my father’s converted birthdate approached. A nice young man rang our doorbell and handed us a cake. My father asked, “thank you so much. And what’s the occasion?” The young man said, “it’s a birthday cake!” My father asked in surprised voice, “whose birthday is it?” Our entire family, including his wife and children had forgotten that this was the date we had agreed on. (‘Sorry dad! If you’re reading this, which date should we celebrate your birth this year?’)
Having lived with mulitple calendars and weekends for many years now, I can draw an analogy of calendars being like drum beats that give rhythm and momentum to a society and pace of life. I can also say I have lived with a consistent offbeat thrown in here and there that when I look back, looks like I’m awkwardly enjoying dancing to the beat.
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