As previously posted on 25th August 2010:
Yesterday was my birthday. The less than sparkling festivities were marked by the fact that our house is at the stage of refurbishment where it seems near demolished – a strong shove or a loud sneeze is all that seems needed at the moment to send it crumbling down. Obviously we cannot stay there any longer. The day before my big day the plumber phoned, urgently requiring information regarding one of the toilets to be installed, preferring to have the actual fixture itself so that he could place pipes in the correct manner into a floor that is being concreted. I immediately realized what I would get for my birthday from my family.
Because I did not have any party to arrange or presents to unpack (a toilet requires too much wrapping and the shape is a dead giveaway making it pointless anyway) I instead used the time to think about birthdays and wonder when they became a day to celebrate. This train of thought took various twists and turns, one of the more interesting ones involving who in the way-old days kept track of time. I can understand Romans doing it, they each probably had a calendar slave to keep the tab, but what about the less domesticated people living off the land somewhere in the woods? Did they count days or even realize there was a system more complex than the seasons or the recurring swings of nature? Did pregnant women count down the days until birth or did they just look down and use how much of their toes they saw to gauge how close the happy event was? I think they did. I certainly would not have counted days and if I had I would have messed it up. Having attempted to count the number of stairs leading down a hill in Sorrento Italy and reaching the bottom with the figure 376 +/- 12, I know for a fact I cannot count with any assurance figures over about 150, which approximately marks the step where I began to become vague as to the previous number. There is no way I would remember to count once every day for 365 days and keep this figure in check, at least not without the aid of a calendar or a computer. I also believe if I were living off the land in some woods there would be more burning things on my mind other than: “Do you know what day it is?”
My daughter is born in 1996 which is a bit of a worry to me as it is so close to the year 2000. Can you imagine how much this will add to her age when she becomes middle aged? I remember finding anyone born in the 1800s completely prehistoric when I was a child, while someone born 1901 was old, but not likely to have had dinner in a pyramid following a day of hearding dinosaurs.
When the year 2000 came along there was a big fuss here in the media at the end of 1999, about whether this was the turn of the millennium or if the following New Year's eve 2000/2001 was the proper big night. At first it seemed ridiculous until one realized that the Gregorian calendar which bases itself on the birth of Jesus, allotted the year of his birth Year 1, not Year 0. Maybe the pope or his advisors thought zero to be a lackluster number to mark this occasion but still – there was only under a week to go until it became Year 1. The system I prefer (Jesus born in the year 0) is much more elegant and it would also have been really useful for him as he would not have had to do much calculating when being asked how old he was. Example: asked about his age in 25 AD Jesus replies: “I will be twenty five in December”. Ask anyone born in 2000 if they don’t find it convenient, I am sure they will agree.
Regarding the argument about the exact turn of the millennium I find the obvious point to celebrate like crazy was on New Year's 1999/2000. It looks sleeker and requires less explaining to young children for one. My main reason for not finding the 2000/2001 turn very impressive, was however more of a record keeping thing. You see, what are the chances that in 1000 years of tracking time at least one year wasn’t forgotten or misplaced somehow? What occured of mention in the year 313 for example? Remember also that over this period they kept changing calendars and conducting variable calendar reforms to make up for their not so perfect handling of leap years. This is not to mention the mix-up in Europe where all sort of local versions of calendars existed all through the middle ages. So who is to say that the year 2000 wasn’t actually 2001? Or 2005 even.
My forefathers probably had a lesser clue than others regarding what year it was. Their system was simple – it was winter and if it was not winter it was summer. It did not really matter to them how many winters or summers had passed before.
In Japan they have three systems running, one where start anew with the inauguration of a new Emperor meaning it is now year Heisei 24. I will suggest to my daughter that she move there soon after 2050. There when asked for her year of birth she can say Heisei 8 which will be guaranteed to sound better at that time than 1996.
But none of this really matters any more than the number of winters or summers that have passed. What matters to me now is if I should bake a cake or not for a friend of mine that has announced a visit on Sunday. She had heard that I got a toilet for my birthday from my husband and wants to drop by with a present of her own. She could not keep the contents of the package a secret and has giddily told me what to expect. She is bringing me a toilet brush.
Yrsa - Wednesday