Right now the 'old moon' is waning to new, silvering to a thin crescent that will be visible this Saturday morning an hour before dawn in the east. We won’t see the new moon’s slender arc again (waxing toward full) until just after sunset on Tuesday the 24th where it will reappear low in the west with the ‘Evening Star’ Venus lighting just above.
For moongazers, then, the typical new moon tends to be a non-event. But this particular new moon will be celebrated by a large number of the world’s inhabitants, since it marks the start of the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Dragon.
Beginning the year at the new moon makes a lot of sense. It’s that cyclical moment when the slate has been wiped clean and possibilities abound. In contrast, our January 1st New Year seems disturbingly free from nature’s cycles. The activities that surround new year festivities in Chinese-speaking cultures are laden with millennia of tradition; in comparison, Westerners have the Times Square Ball, “Auld Lang Syne,” college bowl games, and red beans and rice (or variations thereof). To me, these have never seemed compelling enough to trigger the sense that a new cycle has begun.
Unfortunately, while the human race began marking time by the phases of the moon, relying on lunar calendars fails to capture the full experience of time on planet Earth. For one, lunar calendars conflict with the solar ingresses – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Fall would fall on shifting dates that had little to do with the Sun’s position. Thus, not too useful. And lunar calendars also interfere with the all-too-human desire to have specific dates set aside for celebrations. We can still see how the remnants of the lunar calendar affects the day Easter is observed, since Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Most calendars today are lunisolar calendars, of course; the Islamic calendar being the sole exception.
Since it's my philosophy that there are never enough reasons to celebrate, I advocate using both solar and lunar calendars. You might use this quiet time before Monday’s new moon to set your own intentions – for the month or the year – and see what comes to fruition in the Year of the Dragon.