“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)
In the early days of time humans looked up and there was a sky. The sky was either light or dark, day or night. In the daytime the sky could be bright with sunshine or filled with cloud or storm. And day after day passed, with no other way to understand time. And people needed to understand time, for he saw that there were seasons of hot and cold. Civilizations desired to know how to count and group the days so they would know seasons for planting, harvest, and preparation for cold weather and rainy season.
But the clue for the counting would not come in the daytime, but rather at night, for in the night there is a means of counting the days. The night sky always contains stars, and at times there is a moon. When the moon is full, it is quite beautiful and noticeable. And when the moon is new it can barely be seen except as an outline. People enjoyed the full moon because of its light, when the new moon came the people shared the hope and counted days to a returning full moon. The moon in its regular rotation became the counter. Early people began the month with the beginning of each new moon.
The earliest calendars point to people’s need to keep track of time. The Gezer Calendar says: Two months of harvest, two months of sowing, two months of late planting, one month of hoeing flax, one month of barley harvest, one month of harvest and measuring, two months of vine pruning, one month of summer fruit.
The calendar is of agricultural use. By counting the months mankind knew when to plant and when to harvest. This concept was used in all areas of the world. Early civilizations all used the moon to count. Over time they realized the moon was not the best counter of the solar year (for spring kept getting earlier and earlier and the crops froze), so people began to formulate what a solar calendar looked like, and added leap years to keep planting time viable.
The first month of the Hebrew calendar is called Aviv, which means spring. A requirement for aviv to occur is the ripeness of barley; if the crop is not ready aviv is delayed by repeating the last month of the Jewish calendar, Adar. This was irregular until Meton of Athens in 432 BC demonstrated through mathematics 235 lunar months equates to 19 solar years. In 1178 AD Moses Maimonides wrote in the Mishneh Torah a specific plan for incorporating the Metonic cycle into the actual calendar. Years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 would be 13 months long. Maimonides is also credited with beginning formal usage of the anno mundi era.
To remind people of when to plant and harvest, and to celebrate the harvest season, festivals arose. Major holidays are held in the spring, summer and fall. For example: the major festivals of Israel are the spring harvest (Pesach), summer harvest (Shavuot) and autumn harvest (Sukkot). In India Holi celebrates the end of winter and beginning of spring, Baisakhi or Vaisakhi is a spring harvest festival in northern India, Baisakhi or Vaisakhi is the harvest festival in of tribal Chhattisgarh state, Onam celebrates rice harvest, Nuakhai is the harvest festival in western India, Diwali is the last harvest before winter.
New moons and harvest days have historically served as central gathering points for people and faith communities. As civilizations arose major events were also remembered with historic events being recalled as part of the holiday. Through our series 365 Faith Communities we will look at these community events and their religious significance.