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8 Countries Where the New Year Won’t Be 2024

by Eben Diskin Dec 10, 2023

For much of the Western world, the new year starts on the first minute of January 1 in the local time zone with fireworks, a ball drop, parties, or all of the above plus country-specific traditions that date back centuries. In a few places, people can even ring in the new year twice in one night.

This is true for people who follow the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. Yet it’s not the new year for everyone, or even the same number year.

1. North Korea: Juche calendar

North Korea

Photo: Astrelok/Shutterstock

The Gregorian calendar begins at what is believed to be the date of Jesus Christ’s birth, but North Korea’s calendar, the Juche calendar, begins at the birth of Kim Il-Sung on April 15, 1912. This means the Juche calendar starts year 1 in what is 1912 on the Gregorian calendar, with a multi-day Juche new year celebration centered around the 15. The calendar is named after North Korea’s Juche ideology — a belief system centered on self-reliance that was developed by Kim Il-Sung — and is on official documents in addition to the Gregorian calendar dates.

2. Thailand: Thai Solar calendar

Traditional Thai in Loy Krathong festival showing in Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai historical park, Thailand

Photo: I love photo/Shutterstock

The Thai solar calendar, known as Suriyakati, holds its place in traditional and official Thai settings, although the Western calendar often dominates business affairs. Despite sharing weekdays and months with the Gregorian calendar, it diverges in its year count, starting from the Buddhist Era, which stands 543 years ahead of year 1 on the Gregorian calendar. This count roots back to Gautama Buddha’s passing in 543 BC by Thai reckoning. Transitioning from a lunar calendar, the decree of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1888 marked a shift to the Ratanakosinsok calendar, mirroring the Gregorian system. However, its new year aligned with April 1, referencing Bangkok’s founding in 1781. Later, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) transitioned the year count to the Buddhist Era in 1912. Prime Minister Pibunsongkram’s decree in 1940 established January 1 as the official New Year, and Thailand now celebrates both this date and Songkran (April 13-15) as public holidays. Despite this, Buddhist festivities adhere to the lunar calendar, leading to their fluctuating dates in the solar calendar each year.

3. Ethiopia: Ge’ez calendar

Baskets, Ethiopia

Photo: Alex Sinclair Lack/Shutterstock

The Ethiopian Ge’ez calendar, distinct from the Gregorian system, traces its roots to the ancient Egyptian Coptic calendar. It stands seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar due to unique calculations regarding the annunciation of Jesus’s birth. Comprising 12 months with 30 days each, it appends five or six “extra” days at year’s end as a shortened 13th month called Pagume to synchronize with the solar cycle. According to the Ethiopian calendar, the millennium was celebrated in Ethiopia on September 12, 2007. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the calendar’s pioneering adopter, integrates their fasting dates into this calendar. While the Ethiopian and Coptic calendars share similarities, a 276-year difference distinguishes them.

4. Israel: Hebrew calendar

Fireworks over Jerusalem, celebrating the Israel's Independence Day

Photo: John Theodor/Shutterstock

The Hebrew calendar, rooted in ancient Judaic traditions, contrasts significantly with the Gregorian calendar in its foundational principles and reckoning of time. Originating during antiquity, the Hebrew calendar operates on a lunisolar system, intertwining lunar months with solar years. It consists of 12 or 13 months, with each month beginning at the new moon. This lunar focus results in a year that typically comprises 354 or 355 days. To align with the solar cycle, a 13th intercalary month, known as Adar II, is periodically added. The Gregorian calendar follows a continuous count of years from the purported birth of Jesus Christ, while the Hebrew calendar counts years from the creation of the world, calculated through biblical chronologies, resulting in a variance in year numbering and the positioning of religious observances and festivals.

5. Iran: Persian Solar Hijri calendar

view of Imamzadeh Saleh at Shemiran district, Iran

Photo: Efired/Shutterstock

The Persian Solar Hijri calendar, also known as the Iranian calendar, has its origins in ancient astronomical and cultural practices of Persia. Instituted during the rule of the Sassanian Empire around the 6th century CE, this calendar follows a solar system based on the vernal equinox, aiming to synchronize with the astronomical year. It consists of 12 months of varying lengths, totaling 365 or 366 days, aligning closely with the tropical year. Each month begins with the moment of the sun’s entry into a zodiacal sign. In contrast, the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582, operates solely on a solar system, dividing the year into 12 months, with a leap year occurring every four years to adjust for the discrepancy between the calendar year and the actual length of the solar year. Additionally, the Persian Solar Hijri calendar marks its year count from the hegira, the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE.

6. Japan: Gregorian calendar, with a twist

Sakata Fireworks Show, Japan

Photo: yukihipo/Shutterstock

Japan measures its years by the length of its emperors’ reigns, with each period in Japanese history designated by a word that represents that emperor’s time in power. The previous era under Emperor Akihito was called the “Heisei” era, which means “peace everywhere.” It lasted from 1989 to 2019, when his son Naruhito took the throne. Now Japan is in the Reiwa era, which translates to “beautiful harmony.” When Emperor Naruhito ascended to power, Japan’s calendar reset.

7. Saudi Arabia: Islamic calendar

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Photo: Hany Musallam/Shutterstock

Like many Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia has a dual calendar system, using the Gregorian calendar as well as the Islamic calendar, and providing two dates for many events. The Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijri or lunar calendar, has its origins in the migration (Hijra) of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. This event marks the commencement of the Islamic era and serves as the starting point for the calendar. The Islamic calendar follows a lunar system composed of 12 months, each based on the lunar cycle and consisting of either 29 or 30 days. Consequently, the Islamic year comprises 354 or 355 days, making it shorter than the solar year. Due to this lunar nature, Islamic months drift relative to the Gregorian calendar by approximately 10 to 12 days each year. The months in the Islamic calendar are not tied to the seasons and rotate through the solar year. While it remains integral for determining religious observances and festivals in the Islamic faith, the calendar is primarily lunar-based and is not utilized for agricultural or administrative purposes to the extent of solar-based calendars.

8. The Maya calendar

Stone of the sun - the Mayan calendar

Photo: Rafal Kubiak/Shutterstock

The Maya calendar, a complex and sophisticated system devised by the ancient Maya civilization, comprises interwoven cycles of time that reflect their meticulous understanding of celestial movements. It consists of various calendar cycles, notably the Tzolk’in (260-day sacred calendar) and the Haab’ (365-day solar calendar), alongside the Long Count, a linear count of days marking significant historical events. The Tzolk’in and Haab’ calendars, combining in a 52-year cycle known as the Calendar Round, were integral to Maya societal and religious practices, governing rituals, agriculture, and social life. The calendar system remains culturally significant among communities in Mesoamerica, influencing their traditions, ceremonies, and interpretations of time. While it isn’t used universally in daily life, elements of the Maya calendar persist in cultural practices, folklore, and spiritual beliefs within these indigenous communities.

The Maya calendar’s origin point, known as the “zero date” or the “beginning of the Maya era,” is marked by the mythical date of 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u in the Long Count calendar. This date corresponds to August 11, 3114 BCE, in the Gregorian calendar. This point serves as the starting reference for the Long Count, a continuous count of days used by the ancient Maya to record historical events and track time. This initial date is fundamental to the Long Count system and is considered the starting point of the Maya calendar’s chronological reckoning.

What countries celebrate lunar new year?

The Lunar New Year, also referred to as the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, stands as one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in several East Asian cultures. It marks the beginning of the lunar calendar and typically falls between late January and mid-February based on the lunar cycle. This festive occasion embodies rich cultural traditions, including family gatherings, feasting, and various customs meant to usher in prosperity, good fortune, and the dispelling of negative energy from the previous year. Symbolism plays a pivotal role during this time, with traditions such as dragon and lion dances, red decorations symbolizing luck and happiness, and the giving of red envelopes containing money to bestow blessings and good wishes. Each Lunar New Year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, rotating in a 12-year cycle, each sign believed to influence the character and destiny of individuals born in that year.

  • China
  • Taiwan
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • North and South Korea

What is the difference between Julian and Gregorian calendars?

Introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE, the Julian calendar established a 365-day year with an added leap day every four years, disregarding the fractional difference from the solar year. However, this excess in leap days resulted in an overestimation of the solar year by roughly 11 minutes and 14 seconds annually. In response, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, rectifying this discrepancy by omitting leap years in centurial years not divisible by 400 (e.g., 1700, 1800, 1900), except for those divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600, 2000). This refinement brought the calendar closer to the actual length of the solar year, reducing the annual discrepancy to approximately 26 seconds. Consequently, the Gregorian calendar became the standard civil calendar, replacing the Julian system, and has since been adopted globally, marking a significant advancement in accurate time reckoning and ensuring synchronization with the astronomical year.

Why did we change from Julian to Gregorian calendar?

The change was to align the calendar with the solar year more accurately and correct a drifting discrepancy. Julius Caesar had a leap year rule that added an extra day to February every four years. While this was a reasonably accurate approximation, it wasn’t precise enough to account for the actual length of the solar year.

What countries use the Gregorian calendar?

The Gregorian calendar is the standard calendar used by most countries around the world for business and official international dates. However, religious countries often follow a separate calendar as well that aligns with traditional and historic dates.

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