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January 28, 2014 1:59 am

Jewish and Chinese Calendars Are More Similar Than You Think

avatar by George Jochnowitz

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The moon. Photo: Gregory H. Revera.

The Gregorian calendar – the most commonly used calendar on earth today – is solar. It is based on the time it takes the earth to go around the sun, which is a tiny bit less than 365 ¼ days. The months are arbitrary. They are called “months” because they are a reflection of the lunar cycle – the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth. A lunar month is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds long. On lunar calendars, months typically are either 29 or 30 days long.

The Islamic calendar is lunar. Since 12 lunar months don’t add up to 365 ¼ days, the Islamic months occur a bit earlier every solar year. The month of Ramadan will begin on June 29 in 2014. Since Muslims are required to fast during the day and eat only at night, the fast will be extremely long at northern latitudes. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Ramadan began on February 12. When a calendar is lunar, the holidays move around the year, and so the fast in the northern hemisphere was noticeably shorter in 1994 than it will be in 2014.

The Jewish and Chinese calendars are solar-lunar. A month is a real month – the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth. A year is a real year – the time it takes for the earth to circle the sun. Since the lunar months don’t quite add up to a year, an extra month is added in leap years. In both calendars, leap years occur seven times every 19 years.

Sometimes a Chinese year begins on the first day of Shvat, the month before Adar, rather than the first day of Adar. That’s because Chinese and Jewish leap years don’t always coincide. Even though both calendars add a month 7 times every 19 years, the leap years don’t have to take place the same year.

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The current Jewish year, 5774, is a leap year. There will be two months of Adar this year. Whenever there are two Adars, the Chinese year begins on the day when Adar I will begin at sundown. Adar I will begin at sundown on January 31, the day that the Chinese Year of the Horse arrives at 12:01 A.M.

Jewish and Chinese holidays often occur on the full moon. The Jewish holiday Sukkot often coincides with Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Cake day. In 2014, these two holidays will be a month apart, since both the Chinese and Jewish years are leap years, but the extra month on the Chinese calendar is added at the very end of the year, generally in late January. Sometimes the Jewish holiday of Purim coincides with the Chinese Lantern Festival. Both are cheerful days occurring on a full moon. Since there are two Adars in 5774, and since Purim occurs in Adar II when that happens, they will be a month apart this year.

Hanukkah is an exception to the common occurrence of Jewish holidays at the time of the full moon. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, when there are two remaining days of the waning moon. Then come four days with no moon at all, followed by the first two days of the waxing moon. Hanukkah is on the darkest nights of the year (at least, in the northern hemisphere) when the days are shortest and there is either no moon or merely the last two or the first two of the lunar cycle. It is a perfect time for the Festival of Lights.

Christmas occurs on the 25th of December, an echo of the 25th of Kislev. It too occurs at a dark time of the year and is associated with lights, but since the Gregorian calendar is solar and not solar-lunar, it is possible for a full moon to take place at Christmas.

A solar-lunar calendar and holidays on the full moon are two of the similarities between Chinese and Jewish traditions. There are cultural similarities as well: Jewish and Chinese children are likely to do well in school. On the other hand, there is nothing in Chinese tradition that in any way resembles Kashrut, since pork, dog meat, and donkey meat are all part of China’s culinary traditions.

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  • David

    The Chinese seem to have a couple of other interesting customs associated with their Spring Festival:
    1. They clean their houses to rid their homes of evil spirits.
    2. They put red colour paper cuttings on doors and windows.

  • Jedi

    Honeto,

    You are wrong about Islam not being spread by the sword.. You should read up on your own religion before you misrepresent it.. Have you read the history of Muhammad and the founders of the Sunni/Shia? Nobody is hating, but simply stating the truth.. The Quran is diametrically opposed to the bible’s teachings in every way.. and Muhammad is no prophet and certainly not greater than Jesus.. Its a fake religion… sorry but true..

  • Joseph Kelly

    This is fantastic that both the Jewish and Chinese calenders are similar. There is something solid behind both religions.

    With the Islamic calender being all over the place, truly demonstrates that the Islamic calendar,’Mohammad the messenger’ and Islam itself to be a fake crude copy of Judaism where Muhammad picked up before murdering all the Arabian Jews, kept the dietary laws, called himself the new Moses and used the sword to spread Islam.

    I bet nobody knows this about calendars. Israel and South America (the Mayans) were are on a totally different continents. South America and the Mayans were below the equator and almost diametrically opposite side in the world.

    2,000 – 3,000 years ago, it was impossible to travel the thousands of miles between Israel and South America (and the Mayans in particular.)

    Yet the Mayans were told that the date of Creation in the Mayan Calendar happened exactly 5114 years ago, and Jews were supposedly independently told that the Date of Creation in the Jewish Calenders happened exactly 5761 years ago.

    This being a statistically insignificant blip of only 647 years difference between the two calenders. How were they so close to the date of Creation being diametrically opposite sides of the world?

    There were no known boats or planes, 2,000 to 3,000 years ago that could take people diametrically on the other side of the world and across continents, at that time.

    Could the Mayans be one of the Lost 10 tribes?

    If they were, how did the whole population move from Israel there 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world? As they could not have gone by boat, did they get there by air? The mind boggles!

    • Tiberiiu Weisz

      If you want to see just how close, similar and yet diametrically opposite are Judaism and China culturally, please read my book “The Covenant and the Mandate of Heaven” (available on Amazon). Culturally Judaism is the yang to China’s yin.

    • Joseph Kelly, I am sorry to see your hatred toward Islam and Prophet Mohammed (may God’s peace be upon him) while talking about just the calendars.
      The difference between lunar and solar calendars is obvious for that each one is named accordingly. It is a personal opinion to say that one is better than the other. I have no problem following both. I do not “hate” one or the other of those who follow them.
      I hope you replace your hatred of others by tolerating them if not loving them as taught by Torah. I always respect and believe that Torah was sent by same and only God who sent Gospel and the Final Testament, the Quran. Torah did not teach you to hate your fellow humans. I understand it can be hard when you are taught to hate them as part of your upbringing.

      And by the way, there is no sword hanging over my head when I declare my belief in God and submit my will to God (declaring my Islam).
      In Islam, we don’t reject any of God’s prophets that you as a Jew believe in. As a believer however you reject two of God’s beloved prophets namely Jesus and Mohammed (God’s peace be upon them both). God will ask you why you rejected them when they came with His signs, why?
      Please study and find your answers before you stand in front of God helpless, timeless, and chanceless. This will only be possible, if you through out that hatred which might cause you to fall otherwise.
      Peace.

      • Frank

        You are really not welcomed at all

    • Sara

      The Mormon church actually believes that a branch of the house of Israel came to the Americas around 600BCE by boat-it’s actually what The Book of Mormon is about. Interesting thought.

    • Andrew Yip

      You sound like an idiot when you say Jewish and Chinese are religions.

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