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BLOG: Calendars - what do they mean for our day to day practice?

Happy New Year! It’s something we say once a year, just before we turn the page of our new calendar. Or is it? After all, a calendar is simply a system of marking periods of time. There are several calendars that we all work within – probably without even noticing. Plus a number that we may come across in our work with different families. Let's take a look at some of these cultural calendars and think about why we may need to be aware of them.

A calendar is simply a system of marking periods of time. All of us work within several different calendars as a matter of course and probably don’t even notice:

  • There’s the civil or international calendar, also known as the Gregorian calendar (1 January to 31 December)
  • The financial year (1 April to 31 March) – it’s important to be aware of this if you’re submitting financial records related to any grants or funding you or the families you work with are claiming.
  • The tax year (6 April to 5 April) – key if you need to submit tax returns.
  • The academic year. In England and Wales this traditionally has been 1 September to 31 August, but can vary between countries (including Scotland, for example) and can have an impact on how you work with children and families around transitions to school - helping children move on to school, supporting those children who are saying goodbye to their friends and introducing new children into your setting.
  • In addition, there are other calendars specific to each of us – your PACEY membership year; our car insurance year; our own age or anniversary year, to name but a few. And as childcare professionals, we’re also likely to be working with families from cultures who follow other different calendars as well.

Calendars in some cultures are based on the cycles of the moon. These are known as lunar calendars. Several religions follow a lunar calendar including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Taoism. This means that the date of New Year changes each year as do the dates of the festivals and celebrations. The most visible example of a lunar new year is arguably Chinese New Year where it can fall anywhere between the end of January and the middle of February.

Christianity follows both the Gregorian and the lunar calendar – Christmas Day is always on 25 December, but Easter moves every year. These dates can also vary within different religions. For example western Christianity celebrates Christmas on 25 December and New Year’s Day on 1 January, but Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January and New Year on 14 January.

In addition, not all calendars are the same length or start on the same day. For example, the Ethiopian year starts in September and is made up of 13 months - 12 months of 30 days and one month of five days (six days in a leap year). It is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar. This means that 12 September 2019 was the first day of 2012 in the Ethiopian calendar. Rastafarianism also follows the Ethiopian calendar but those who follow the Baha'i calendar will have a year made up of 19 months beginning in March, each containing 19 days and an intercalary day period of four days (five during leap years). It is important to be aware of implications of following different calendar systems. For example, it may influence the date that is on an individual's birth certificate. A child born in Ethiopia will have a birth certificate that shows the Ethiopian calendar date as well as the date on the Gregorian calendar. This may impact your setting if you are needing to check birth dates for funding reasons, so it’s important to ensure you have the correct date.

Marking New Years

It is not possible to give all the New Year dates in 2020, and ones listed below are not necessarily any more important than any others. It is important to check these dates nearer the time because if they follow the lunar calendar they may change. Let’s look at provisional dates for some of the New Years in 2020:

1 January  - Gregorian New Year
1 January  - Gantan-sai, Shinto New Year 
5 February -  Chinese New Year
3 March  - Hindu New Year
20 – 21 March - Naw-Rúz, Bahá’í New Year’s Day
13 April - Vaisakhi Sikh New Year
11 September  – Ethiopian New Year
9 – 20 September - Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year

What does this mean for you in your settings?

With so many possible starts to a new year, celebrating, or even acknowledging every new year’s day, festival or celebration with children will be confusing for them. Decide in your setting what you are going to mark and why, making sure it is beneficial for the children in your care. In the words of the Education Inspection Framework - what is your Intent, how are you going to Implement it and what Impact will you have had?

Part of this decision-making process should involve talking to the parents of the children in your setting and finding out which calendars they follow. Try not to make assumptions about what they follow or what they may or may not celebrate. Check dates and think about the implications for the setting and for children and families.

Being aware of the different calendar systems and also sharing with parents what calendar you follow opens up opportunities for conversation and could influence activities or learning you may implement in your setting.

It is helpful for practitioners to be aware of the many different calendar systems and where to find out information about them. You and your colleagues may be following several of the different calendars. The families you work with may be following the same or different calendars to you. It is important to talk to parents and find out this as it may influence what families may be observing. It is useful to know when different dates fall and when events occur so you can talk to children and parents about them. It may also affect when children may be absent or when your setting is open or closed.

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