What year are we really in?:
When are we? Nominally, we are in the Christian year of 2008, but we are also in the Islamic year 1386, Chinese year 4608 (or 4706, 4705, or 4645, depending on the reign of Huang Di, inventor of the calendar), Egyptian year 5108 (if the Narmer/Menes dates are accurate) and a few more. But whose calendar is more valid', more accurate or even needed? Our calendar systems are subjective and disjointed and the world might be better off with one system only and one that predated the rest. If only our Ice Age ancestors had establish a singular or unified calendar for us, beyond lunar and solar cycles. Below are some calendar histories and mysteries.
How can the Christian era start at year zero, even after knowing the fact that Jesus was born between 4 and 6BC (as Herod the Great died in 4BC and the Star of Bethlehem may have been any number of extraordinary celestial features that occurred during that time). Since the modern Gregorian calendar started in AD1582, there have been numerous tweaks and many indigenous time systems have been lost. But these chronological curios would have led to a temporal Tower of Babel with solar, lunar, Venusian, stellar, riverine, and countless other seasonal and calendar systems causing confusion over which calendar was more worthy. The Gregorian calendar brought relative order.
The Hebrew calendar goes back to 3761BC, the supposed date for the beginning of the world in the Old Testament. That makes it the year 5769. Of course this clashes with Christian calendars (and history). How was this date established, by Talmud scribings of genealogies or from ancient scholarly calendars passed down through generations? If it is from a set date and legitimate source rather than a textual context, then why not follow the Hebrew calendar, especially since Christianity has its roots in Judaism?
Chinese and Egyptian:
China and Egypt have unbroken timelines going back thousands of years, but rely on reign dates that are not totally consistent or confirmed. With the Chinese calendar invented around 2600BC and the Egyptian state united around 3100BC, they could easily have spread around the world, but isolation in the case of the Chinese, and the Greeks and Romans in Egypt's case put paid to that and the Julian calendar would go on to rule Europe.
The Gregorian supremacy:
Succeeding the Julian calendar was the Gregorian calendar, created by Pope Gregory XIII. Without it, the world may have been a different place; for instance, a Druidic calendar from the British Isles may have been in vogue now, with Stonehenge the spiritual heart of England with Kings and Queens crowned, married and buried under the Sarsens and Bluestones instead of St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey.
It is this quirk of calendar systems which vividly reveals the myth of the supposed separation between church and state. Modern secular business, politics and life is ruled by a timeframe set by a religious event. Religious calendars hold sway over secular life. Secularism runs on the timestamp of religion. Our weekdays are named for (Norse/pagan) religious deities and symbols. The first half of our year (January to June) are also named for pagan Gods, two for Roman leaders (July and August) and the rest are numerically based. So our year is ruled by a hodgepodge of pagan-named days, willingly accepted by Christian and other religious orders.
Even the concepts of BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini In the Year of Our Lord') are religious markers in the secular working world. The more neutral BCE (Before Common Era) or BP (Before Present -1950) are becoming increasingly popular as people react to the political correctness of using Christian religious terms for time periods not related to it.
We cannot keep resetting our calendar systems and hopefully the Gregorian calendar is the last major reset. This may be a feature of our times, but it takes away what sense of history there was; we lose our prehistoric perspective and think that only the present and future matter. Knowing your cultural history stretches further back into the past and actually having a calendar to reflect that gives a culture a continuity; a sense of identity and deep heritage. As Muslims celebrate their beginnings from AD622, America might as well celebrate their origin as 232 AI (after Independence from 1776), Canada as 141 AI, and Australia 220 SD (Since Discovery). But on the flip side, the indigenous of these colonised worlds needed no calendar to tell them that they had a deep history or what year it was. All one needed to know was that the past shaped the present shaped the future.
The Maya had a trio of sophisticated calendars, which counted out months, years and vaster stretches of time in Great Cycles. As deciphered, the last of their Great Cycles began on 13th August, 3114 BC and will end on December 23rd, AD 2012. Their Great Cycles are said to end in great cataclysms, but it is not the world that ends, as usually interpreted by New Age writers and doomsdayers, but an age, a new dawn or new millennium. But was 3114BC just an arbitrary date? What happened in the previous cycles? Since the Maya were accomplished astronomers, something celestial must have occurred such as a conjunction of planets or stars, a nova or comet, which then perhaps became a initialising date, a beginning of a new age. If that date is their year zero then we would be in the year 5122 and celebrating some celestial event. The year 2012 could be our next great starting point.
French Revolution calendar:
After the Revolution, the leaders of the Republican Era established a new calendar from1792 that tried to be as a natural a calendar as could be. The Years, which began at the autumn equinox, were written Roman numerals and were divided into twelve months of 3 ten-day weeks. Hours, minutes and seconds of the day were decimalised into ten hours, each with 100 minutes made of 100 seconds. The months had names based on nature like Brumaire (fog), Germinal (germination), and Messidor (harvest) etc. The Republican Calendar was ended by Napoleon in 1806, after problems with leap years, changes by the Church and partial abandonment of decimal clocks. The twelve year experiment was over and with it any chance of succeeding the Gregorian calendar. If it had continued and been adopted around the world we would now be in 29 Prairial An CCXVI (17th June 216). While the calendar was complicated and unwieldy it has been the only serious attempt to reinvent the calendar in recent times.
The moon is close enough for Earth time, but Mars is a different story. Its orbit is 669 days and has an extra 39 minutes to its day. Its calendar would be quite dissimilar to Earth's due to its more elliptical orbit and seasons will be uneven. Hopefully they'll get it right on Mars and stick to one system without any fractious cultures settling for different calendars. But as man travels further from Earth new systems will have to be developed in order to cope with different timeframes and stellar references.
So should we continue on with our disparate calendars or even create a neutral one that the whole world could use, from a past date that we can certify as an absolute date (scientifically calibrated). A man-made artefact, whether a document, site, or burial, would only cause cultural divisions, so a timed and known geological event (volcano, magnetic shift, meteor crash or supernova), might be neutrally accepted. Only time will tell, so keep checking your calendar for changes.