These days smartphones, electronic calendars, computers and other electronic devices update the time and date themselves, for the most part. Time changes like daylight savings and leap years pose no difficulty for modern time-keeping devices, which simply synchronize themselves to the global standards without any effort from owners who may not even realize what’s happened.

Al-Jazari’s elephant clock Accurate timekeeping wasn’t always so effortless, though. For millennia, ingenious devices like water clocks, sundials, rolling ball clocks and Al-Jazari’s brilliant elephant clock were used to keep time. Timekeeping was so important that in 1714 the British Parliament offered a large monetary reward for anyone who could devise a mechanism to keep accurate time aboard a ship. This was necessary for calculating longitude, so the ship could stay its course. John Harrison won the prize and revolutionized navigation with his marine chronometer.

On a larger scale, humans have gone to great lengths to create systems and structures (like Stonehenge and the Mayan pyramids in Chichen Itza) that monitored the passage of time across days, weeks and years. These calendars helped our ancestors decide when to plant and harvest and celebrate annual events that were important to individual and communal lives.

There are dozens of different calendar systems that have been utilized at one time or another, from the earliest lunar-based systems to today’s solar Gregorian calendar. Many of the holidays we now celebrate have roots in older calendar systems that work a bit differently than what we’re used to. Their dates are set based on the calendars that were in place where and when the celebrations originated, resulting in annual variations in today’s modern calendars.

Chanukah is a perfect example. Each year, the dates for this eight-day Jewish religious celebration are determined by the Hebrew calendar, a lunisolar system. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which can coincide with dates ranging from late November to late December in the Gregorian system. The time frame as well as the holiday’s tradition of gift-giving for the Feast of Lights, makes it somewhat akin to the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25th.

This year Chanukah is unusually late, coinciding with Christmas Eve on December 24th. That’s only happened four times over the last century! When the dates line up this way, Jews, Christians and secular Americans all celebrate their respective events simultaneously, which is extra special.

Whatever holiday you celebrate and however you keep track of time, Network 1 sends wishes for a joyous celebration to you and yours, and a peaceful, happy start to 2017!

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