Just a random illustration (Pink River by Mayank Chhaya)
Having invested all my hopes in the accuracy of the so-called Mayan prophecy foreshadowing the end of the world on December 21, 2012, my calendar for tonight is wide open. There was no Plan B post-December 21, 2012.
My calendar, in fact, has been wide open every single December 31st night since the time one began to become aware of the utterly arbitrary nature of the calendar. That awareness came when I was eight arbitrary years old.
Like most nights tonight too I will likely go to sleep by my usual time of 10 p.m. No, I don’t watch the Times Square ball drop. Tell me when it does not fall and instead starts floating. I would be interested in that gravitational shift. Trust me if the ball floats, we will have much bigger things to be worried about than the annual changeover and hangover. The word hung over would have a whole new meaning in such an event. We will all be hung over.
Let me accept the onset of a new year tonight just for sake of argument for the duration of this post. To me the signature event of 2012 is unquestionably NASA’s ‘Curiosity’ mission to Mars. Beyond the mindboggling scientific and technological brilliance of the mission, including the utter insanity of the way the rover was landed on the planet by Dr. Adam Steltzner and his team, I am equally interested in the fact that the Martian year is 1.88 times longer than ours. It takes Earth about 365.242199 days to complete one orbit around the Sun. That’s what makes one Earth year. Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, takes 686.971 Earth days to complete its orbit.
It may not take a great deal out of you to calculate that Earth ought to have gone around the Sun much much more than the 2012th orbit it is supposed to complete tonight. We might have to settle for the widely respected scientific figure of 4.54 billion years. I understand the practical need for the human race to have a global consensus over which year we all live in even though some of us may still be frozen in medieval times or even prehistoric ones. To that extent one has to reluctantly go along with the current calendar. That said, it would help a great deal if the exultant celebrants remember that it is an entirely arbitrary system. It does not work on our nearest planetary neighbor Mars. Forget Mars, it does not work even on our planetary groupie, Moon. A Lunar month is 29.53 days. I am throwing all these figures at you before you become inebriated (At least some of you but in many other parts of the world inebriation is already at its peak) so that you know how entirely arbitrary it all is.
Of course, as I said earlier, I do recognize the need to be practical about it and not anal or even obstructionist like me. At the same time though it would help keep your feet grounded to be conscious of these relative facts. The purpose of any calendar essentially is to be able to predict changing seasons because human life has depended so much on it. In individual lifetimes there is a certain inevitability to the onset of seasons, although it may not be the case over earthly lifetime. To that extent it is helpful to have an annualized reference point.
It is amazing how every year at this time I do my best to pour cold water on the very idea of the change of year. Sometimes I think it might be easier to just go along with the global current and pretend that something seminal will happen on December 31 when the ball drops at Times Square. Can we at least aim for all debts being forgiven in honor of a new year? I say this because the system of money and currency is also completely arbitrary, quite like the number 2013. Collectively we can decide to retire every single penny in global debt. It is, after all, just some fancily printed paper.
As for Mars being our closet neighbor and having a different definition of a year, let me leave you with this fact. The distance between Earth and Mars swings between 55 million kilometers (a little over 34 million miles) and 400 million kilometers (250 million miles) depending on where in the context of their solar orbits they are at a particular time. Didn’t I tell you it is all relative?