Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Pope Paul VI supposedly remarked once in a conversation something to the effect that autumn seemed more like the real beginning of the year. Those of us who have spent much of our lives tied to academic calendars and school schedules naturally resonate with that. In the US and Canada, one often hears Labor Day referred to as the beginning of the year.

For various reasons, our Western Christian calendar (and hence the civil calendar in use in most of the world today) now begins on January 1. We number our years beginning on that date and count January as the first month of the year. (Neither was always the case, but that is another discussion). The Jewish calendar counts its years beginning on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month (Tishri), which occurs annually sometime in September or October. (This year, the Jewish Year 5771 will begin at sundown on September 8). Somewhat analogously, the Orthodox calendar begins on September 1, the years being counted from the supposed creation of the world on September 1, 5009 B.C.

It is easy to see why, in the Middle East, autumn would naturally be thought of as the beginning of the year – or at least a beginning of a year. After the scorching heat of summer, autumn brings the promise of the rain that makes sustained life possible in that desert climate. Jesus in the Gospel (Matthew 5:45) famously reminded his hearers how God afflicts the good as well as the bad with the hot sun and benefits the bad as well as the good with refreshing rain.

Like Israel, there are other places (e.g., Northern California) that experience a summer dry season and a winter rainy season. I have not generally lived in such places. So it is not rain per se that I look forward to particularly as September begins. The prospect of cooler weather together with the renewed social stability associated with another “school year” are what make September such a hopeful month for me. So I welcome September 1 – and look forward even more eagerly to October 1.

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