NEW YORK -- In this ethnically diverse city, ''Happy New Year" isn't just a Jan. 1 greeting chanted by the thousands of revelers in Times Square.
Late January, March, even September and October -- a panoply of cultures almost create a never-ending new year. That's why as workers in Times Square hurry to attach crystal pieces to the giant ball that will drop as 2005 winds down tonight, Chinatown has another month to prepare for its year-end celebration.
Staff members at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas were getting everything in order for the third annual flower market, an event that draws tens of thousands of people to buy the blooms that are considered auspicious decorations to welcome in the Chinese Lunar New Year -- year 4703 under the most widely used calendar.
That new year is more about holding on to customs and spending time with family and friends than it is about a raucous party, said William Dao, one of the staffers.
''It's not just to keep track of time, but it's something to keep track of your past," he said.
Most of the alternatives to the Gregorian calendar -- the mainstay of the West that is used for business around the globe -- come from the world's religions.
Those calendars ''helped people have frameworks in which to live. . . . One of the functions of religion is to remind them that time is flowing," said Delton Kruger, of Bloomington, Minn., who manages a Web-based calendar of holy days from around the world.
For 2006, his calendar lists the start of the Muslim year 1427 on Jan. 31, while the Zoroastrian year starts on March 21, the Jewish year 5767 on Sept. 23, and the Hindu year on Oct. 21.
''Every culture is going to do it based on what's important to them," said Robert Bonadurer, director of the planetarium at the University of Texas at Arlington. He noted that calendars are rooted in the cycles of celestial bodies like the moon and sun, but ''after that, you get into power and culture."
The Gregorian calendar, for example, was created because its predecessor, the Julian calendar, was off and resulted in Easter moving back earlier each year. Even after the Gregorian model was approved by the pope in 1582, it was years, and in some places centuries, before it was accepted. England and the American colonies didn't switch until the mid-1700s. Ethiopia still uses the Julian calendar; its new year starts Sept. 11.
Many people whose lives are shaped by the Gregorian calendar remain closely tied to their cultural calendars, said Louis Flam, professor of anthropology of Lehman College in the Bronx. It's a tie that remains even when Times Square becomes a teeming mass of hundreds of thousands of people every Dec. 31.
''Even here, people of Indian, Jewish, Islamic traditions celebrate the New Year," Flam said, ''but then they celebrate their own as well."