The many uses of the "horse racing" calendar
It is relatively easy to know which day of the week it is. Similarly, we can more or less tell the time of day merely by looking outside the window. But how many of us can tell the date without referring to the calendar?
Counting the days
Since the dawn of civilisation, mankind has looked towards the stars to determine important events like planting and harvesting. The Egyptians as far back as 4236 BC noticed that the star Sirius rose next to the sun every 365 days. The Babylonians (about 2000 BC) and much later, the Mayans (between 250 and 900) were one of the first peoples to use the solar system and nearby galaxies to measure time. These heavenly signs and portents were then extrapolated onto carvings and tablets for easy reference.
The Mayan Pyramid of Kukulkan was used as a calendar of 365 days. Similarly, an Aztec calendar, called the Xiuhpohualli, also had 365 days. These early calendars provided a blueprint of sorts for the very same calendars that we use today.
Photo above, right: Pope Gregory XIII in an early 17th-century engraving. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar.
The Gregorian calendar in use today serves as an international standard in most countries, notable exceptions being Thailand, India and Muslim countries. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. It was introduced after the Julian calendar (in use since 45 BC) had months of fixed lengths slowly shifting off course over the years. To deal with the 10 days' difference that this drift had already reached, the date was advanced so that 4 October 1582 was followed by 15 October 1582.
It is ironic indeed that the calendars of the distant past were far more accurate than "modern" ones!
The switchover was bitterly opposed by much of the populace. The Gregorian calendar was not accepted in eastern Christendom for several hundred years and then only as the civil calendar.
The Malaysian 'horse race' calendar
Although the Gregorian calendar is commonly used here in Malaysia, the traditional Hijri, Chinese and Indian lunar calendars are commonly used for setting traditional festivals and events.
One particular calendar that has been always been useful and is a must have among households and offices is the "horse racing" calendar, also known in Malay as the "Lumba Kuda" calendar. Remember the Lat cartoon where the father asked the son to get him the calendar "with the little horses"?
This calendar is multi-faceted – it includes not just the Gregorian dates but also the the Hijri, Chinese and Indian lunar months. Public holidays are marked with festive graphics relevant to the religion and school breaks are shaded in pale yellow as if highlighted with a pen. Turf meets are marked with little galloping horses replete with jockeys. The Chinese zodiac signs are placed at the top of some "horse racing" calendar.
The 12 Gregorian months are printed on 12 sheets of light weight paper (about 50 gms) stapled onto a decorative piece of cardboard of the same width. This cardboard doubles as an advertisement. The calendars come in various sizes – for wall hanging (24 by 27 cm), desktop (13 by 13 cm) and pocket (8.5 by 6.3 cm). The last is not recommended for the visually challenged.
Because the "horse racing" calendar is so useful, companies often package them as corporate gifts for clients. If you are not lucky enough to be given one, they can also be purchased from local book and stationery shops here in Penang. It is uncertain if these calendars are available in all parts of the world. For instance, I have relatives in Australia and the UK who will request for a few copies to be posted to them every year. My aunty from Kuala Lumpur will also remind me to send her some as well.
Another year will soon come to an end. As we usher in the beginning of a new one, so the mad rush to get 'horse racing' calendars begins. What better way to face the new year than with a calendar which is packed with all the necessary information needed for the year to come!
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated 29 December 2019