Happy 1989

Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley, 1996). Contact her through Voices or by e-mail: 71204.1703@compuserve.com

As co-workers Steve and Isaac leave their engineering office for the holiday break, Steve wishes Isaac, "Happy 1997!"

Isaac smiles and say, "Thanks Steve, but for me it's still 1989."

Steve thinks Isaac is joking, but Isaac is not.

What did he mean?

Ethiopian-born Isaac belongs to the Ethiopian Coptic Church, which follows the Coptic calendar. The Gregorian calendar used by most of the Western world is seven years and eight months ahead of the Coptic. While calendar variations commonly result from an attempt to reconcile sun/moon/Earth relationships, one Ethiopian legend explains that the delay on their calendar is the result of time needed for news of Christ's birth to reach their country.

Other calendars besides the Coptic also have different numbered years. Currently, it is 4694 on Chinese and Vietnamese calendars and 5757 on Hebrew calendars. First days of New Years vary, too. Coptic Ethiopians begin theirs on Sept. 12; Laotians, Thais and Cambodians April 13; Iranians April 20 or 21; Jews in September or October; the Chinese and Vietnamese, mid-January to February.

Regardless of dates, however, at the beginning of the new year all people everywhere look ahead to a fresh start. New Year's celebrants symbolically express these desires through wearing new clothes, settling debts, eating apples and honey for a sweet year, eating black-eyed peas for a prosperous year, eating noodles for a long life.

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