image Chinese red lanterns at new year celebration
Chinese Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year) will presumably never coincide with Rosh Hashanah – but one of these days it will presumably coincide with Muharram
Image By Paul Louis (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a kind of double new year today, because according to my goyische calendars, today is Rosh Hashanah, although technically it began last night at 7:07 p.m., at least in Corydon, Indiana. Yesterday was also the first day of Muharram, according to MuslimPro, though there is always a little bit of iffiness about the beginning of the month in the Muslim lunar calendar (see the opinion of this author in Haaretz). October 3 is also technically the first day of fall break in Corydon, Indiana, which is something of a celebration as well, although people going out of town will already have left for Florida on Friday or Saturday.

This double new year must happen regularly, because of the dance of the lunar calendars, but presumably not all that frequently. We would need a mathematician or astronomer to tell us for sure, and I didn’t have the patience to do the relevant internet search. Even without knowing the precise intervals, we can know that these rare calendrical events are a call to pause and reflect on the interrelationships of our communities. Our stories overlap. This morning, people around the world are commemorating God’s creation of humanity, or the creation of their particular human community, and thinking about the purpose of their lives, and hoping for better things in the future, for themselves, and their children.

Muharram is supposed to be a month of abstinence, in particular, from the shedding of blood. We can hope.

The coincidence of Rosh Hashanah and Muharram means that 10 days later the significant dates of Yom Kippur and Ashura will coincide as well. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement for Jewish people. Ashura is the day of remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein for Shi’a Muslims, and the day of remembrance of the salvation of the Hebrews through the Red Sea for Sunni Muslims. People around the world will be focused on the need for repentance in light of the holiness of God, on the recollection that others have shown us that personal holiness is possible, and on the recollection that in the end our futures rest in God’s hands. You might think that similarities like this might incline us towards compassion for one another – more than it seems to have done so far.

For some basic information on Rosh Hashanah, there is Chabad’s guide to the celebration of Rosh Hashanah for those aspiring to become more observant, as well as Judaism 101’s outline of Rosh Hashanah, which also discusses the four Jewish calendar new years. For a little more on Muharram that isn’t from Wikipedia, IslamiCity has some interesting summary comments.