THE year 1981 for war or peace, for depression or prosperity, for happiness or sorrow -- or all of the above -- will soon begin. The beginning of a new year is a time when we hope things will be better, or at least not any worse. Choosing a calendar to mark the days of 1981 is a serious decision. Bucolic scenes of the once-was, stirring pictures of sporting events, nature in her godly grandeur, life transformed into art through the artist's eye and hand -- these seem to be the choices of the calendar publishers to cheer your days. The calendar makers missed a bet. What everyone seems to want this year is a way to turn back the calendar and to escape through time travel back to the year when "Bozo Went to College," and the millenium was a sure thing. t

Calendars can be bought at all bookstores and museum shops, as well as some department stores and art galleries. Franz Bader Gallery carries a notable number of art calendars printed in Europe.

Happy New Year!

1981 CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL NATIONAL MEDICAL CENTER CALENDAR, ($5, Children's Hospital). Watercolors by Susan Davis. The incomparable paintings of Susan Davis, at last collected in this, the most charming calendar of the season. The fanciful illustrations are guaranteed to cheer you up every month of the year. Davis has donated the art work, in memory of Marion Clark, to the Children's Hospital which receives all the profits from the calendar. Call H. H. Leonards at 659-8787 for information about where it can be bought.

UNFORGETTABLE PEOPLE, an engagement calendar, by A. Hyatt Mayor, ($5.95, Metropolitan Museum of Art). A. Hyatt Mayor, who died last February worked on this marvelous calendar to the day he died. His were always the most delightful calendars of the year. The days will never be the same now that he's gone. The introduction, by curator Colta Ives, points out that Mayor was a most unforgettable person himself. Everybody, of course, will have to have this one to read about and admire paintings and sculpture of St. Eligus weighing gold (1449), a Cycladic man with harp (3000-3500 B.C.), Madame X by John Singer Sargent, and other people who look like they're having a good time, which I'm sure Mayor did, too.

HERE COMES THE SUN 1981, by Robie Rogge ($4.95, Metropolitan Museum of Art). The sun is a symbol celebrated in stained glass, sundials, star dials, in paintings by John Marin, Henri Rousseau, and Vincent Van Gogh, in Greek tera-cotta vases, in Egyptian solar barques, in Chinese Ch'ing embrodiery, in French tapestries. The Metropolitan has made a bright collection for this wonderful calendar. Though it's a wall calendar, each date has room for a note to illuminate your day.

ALEXANDRIA 1981, with sketches by Marian Van Landingham ($5, a fund-raiser by Senior Citizen Employment and Services of Alexandria). A scene of Old Town for every month.

THE STUDIO CALENDAR 1981, drawings by Nan Haid and commentary by Elaine Wertheim ($6.95, the Studio Calendar, P.O. Box 6026, Arlington, Va. 22206). These 12 drawings by haid of Nokesville, Va., show the working spaces of the best of the 19th- and 20th-century artists, along with art notes on birthdays and events. The original ink drawings are on display at the Jack Rasmussen Gallery.

WASHINGTON WOMEN'S ART CENTER 1981 ORIGINAL PRINT CALENDAR, by the Center's printmakers ($40, in a limited edition of 200, WWAC, 1821 Q St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009). This praiseworthy enterprise is sold out for this year, but you should order your 1982 calendar now. Next year's calendar will again offer 12 hand-printed graphics: woodcuts, etchings, serigraphs and monoprints, detachable for framing. This year's artists were Lindsay H. Makepeace, Aline Feldman, Deborah Schindler, Helga Thomson, Beverly Anderson, Nina Muys, Ann Corbett, Mansoora Hassan, Ann Zahn, A. Lesley, Primas, Laura Huff, Charlotte Clark, Jeanne Garant, Sandra Wasko-Flood, Sarah Gooding, and Constance Grace. The limited edition was sold out almost overnight, so if you want one next year, better get your order in now.

CALDER CALENDAR 1981, edited by Jean Lipman with Doris Palca, designed by David Charlsen, (published by the Whitney Museum of American Art), is based on a calendar Alexander Calder made for himself. The 55 illustrations of Calder and his work have, as captions, quotations from him. Lipman, Calder's best biographer, wrote a good introduction.

THE ILLUSTRATED JEWISH HERITAGE DESK CALENDAR 1981 ($9.95, Holt, Rinehart and Winston). "Three things are good in small measure, and bad in large: year, salt, and refusal," by Talmud Berakhot, is the thought for Aug. 2-8. Other weeks, other thoughts, with 52 photographs of handsome Jewish paintings and ceremonial objects.

THE NUDE, a wall calendar from the Art Institute of Chicago, $8.95, Universe). Women, and even two or three men, with no clothes on are sometimes seductive, occasionally voluptuous, often sad, once or twice ugly, at least once terrifying. The 12 artists range from Edgar Degas to Edvard Munch, each with their private vision.

LEAVES FROM A CHINESE ALBUM, a wall calender from the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art ($10, Universe). Six exquisite nature studies, many of birds, originally with ink and color on silk during the Ching Dynasty (18th century). The introduction points out that Chinese artists placed great emphasis on precise and accurate depiction of birds, flowers, bugs, trees and plants. These all look as though the artist were looking through a macro-lens. Lovely.

THE ARTS OF CHINA, an engagement calendar from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ($7.95, Universe Books). In art, it sometimes seems as though the Chinese invented and excelled in all. Embroidery, tapestry, weaving, sculpture, ink paintings, lacquer as fans, scrolls, clothing, pottery, headdresses and others. Fascinating. Since the days are not indicated, you can begin anytime.

IN HER OWN IMAGE. The 1981 Smithsonian engagement calendar ($5.95, Universe) begins with the thought, to which I heartily subscribe: What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? No-thing (Geoffrey Chaucer, "Canterbury Tales"). From there on we have women such as George Luks' oil painting "Girl in Green," a painting of dancing women under the lid of a Steinway concert grand piano made for the White House; a Parvati bronze, from the 10th century in India; and other women and goddesses, with suitable quotations. Antiques and Quilts

QUILTS/81, calendar by Phyllis Haders (Main Street PressSt. Martin's Press) is big, bright and beautiful. The 12 dramatic quilts she chose are shown in wonderful full-color reproduction in wall-calendar size. Despite the title, all the quilts were made from 1870 to 1910. This large wall calendar reinforces the point that mostly anonymous American women had invented Op Art before any of the so-called fine artists ever thought of it.

THE QUILT ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR, compiled by Cyril I. Nelson ($6.95, E.P. Dutton), has 52 photographs of handsome quilts varying from an unusual "Tree of Life" quilt from 1870 Massachusetts to a charming applique quilt, "Noah's Landing," made and designed in 1974 by Dorothy and Abby Brooks of Pennyslvania.

THE ANTIQUES ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR FOR 1981, compiled by Lawrence Grow, photographs by Helga Photo Studio (Main Street Press/by St. Martin's Press, $6.95) offers an antique a week. Sports

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL ABC, 1980-81 ($5.95, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.), for the fanatics, has photographs of the great and blocks for each day with notes on that day in football history. A medium-sized wall calendar.

THE MACMILLAN BASEBALL CALENDAR 1981, by Joseph L. Reichler, ($7.95, Macmillan Publishing Co.). This medium-sized wall calendar has baseball dates with bits of information tucked in as well as photographs of great hits and places to note your predictions. Ball one.

THE COMPLETE RUNNER'S DAY-BY-DAY LOG AND CALENDAR 1981, by James F. Fixx ($6.95, Random House), has photographs giving the impression that everybody is pursued. If you're one of them, this would be useful to have for its information on running, and space to log appointments, milege, etc.

SKIING '81, by Stott Shot Photography, design by Harry Chester Associates ($6.95, Universe). Looking at this calendar makes you feel either exhilarated and in top form or cold, tired and miserable. Nature

FLORA, a wall calendar from the New York Botancial Garden and the British (Natural History) Museum ($6.95, Universe). How many of us (other than Earthman Henry Mitchell) know what a Devilsbit Scabious (Sucdcisa pratensis) looks like in situ, not to mention a Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica). With this handsome calendar, we can learn. The illustrations come from a series of plant ecology wall charts by Barbara Nicholson for the British Museum. Each shows a particular habitat, the way plants respond to each other and the environment, and the progression of seasons.

PASSION FLOWERS AND OTHER TROPICAL BLOSSOMS 1981 is a desk post-card calendar photographed by Edward S. Ayensu, with the cooperation of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian ($4.50, Universe). Twelve gorgeous flowers-a-month. After the months are over, write friends and mail them the flowers.

SIERRA CLUB'S 1981 CALENDARS. The gorgeously Italian-printed master photographs are collected in three medium-to-small wall-sized calendars, and one engagement calendar -- each with a different face of nature. Published by Charles Scribner's Sons, the wall calendars are $5.95; the engagement calendar, $6.95:

"Trail Calender 1981" has 14 crisp action photographs of man in nature.

"Wildlife Calendar 1981" has 14 pictures of animals in nature.

"Wilderness Calendar 1981" has 14 pictures celebrating nature in nature.

"Wilderness 1981 Engagement Calendar" has 58 color photographs, many of them handsome abstractions of designs in nature.

"Calender for Young People 1981" has 14 color photographs of animals at home in nature, though some obviously felt as though the photographer had intruded.

WONDERS OF THE WORLD DESK CALENDAR 1981, by the editors of Eastman Kodak Company ($6.50, Eastman Kodak Company). Fifty-six nominations (ostriches, the Great Wall of China, Neuswanstein, spider webs, Stonehenge) for wonders of the world as we approach the millineum.

THE OLD FARMERS 1981 ALMANAC by Robert B. Thomas (Judson D. Hale, editor, Rob Trowbridge, publisher; the 189th edition ($1.25, Yankee Inc., Dublin, N.H.) "Middle Atlantic Coastal: Winter in general in this area will be mild and dry, although temperatures will vary more than usual . . . Most precipitation will come as rain, and no heavy snow is expected until the last week of February . . . "

THE 1981 EQUUS CALENDAR, text and photographs by Robert Vavra ($5.95, William Morrow & Company). February: "When a stallion joins a harem of mares, it may be days, weeks or even months before he is accepted by them," and other horsy remarks.

THE BIRD IDENTIFICATION ENGAGEMENT BOOK has common birds of North America, illustrations by John Sill; prepared under the direction of the Massachusetts Audubon Society ($9.95, Stephen Greene Press, P.O. Box 1000, Brattleboro, Vt.) This useful book not only shows clear paintings of birds but also includes a primer on bird watching.

THE EASTERN BIRD IDENTIFICATION CALENDAR, a wall calender of common birds in eastern North America. Illustrated by John Sill, Massachusetts Audubon Society ($6.95, The Stephen Greene Press). Watercolor paintings for each month and a section on planting and attracting birds.

THE WESTERN BIRD IDENTIFICATION CALENDAR, a wall calendar of common birds of western North America. Illustrated by John Sill, Massachusetts Audubon Society ($6.95, The Stephen Greene Press), with the same informational section as above.

A PRIDE OF CATS, call calendar by Jean Moss $5.95, Universe). The Chinese and Japanese as this book shows, are the preeminent depictors of cats -- at least I thought that, until I saw the San Blas Molas facing May.

JUNGLE FANTASIES wall calendar by Fleur Cowles ($5.95, Universe). Lions and tigers. Oh my! Cowles, whom the old ones remember as editor of "Flair," the magazine of the '50s with the see-through cover, has painted these childlike imaginary landscapes in which tigers and birds, ornamented with flowers, live in harmony. Something for Everyone

UNICEF FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS (Fetes et Celebrations, Festivales y Celebraciones -- tri-lingual, $4.50, UNICEF). Fifty-nine ways people all over the world cheer themselves up. I don't thing I would be made happy by painting designs on my fingers as the Berbers do in Morocco, but I'd love to turn myself into a flower as they do during carnival in Trinidad.

UNICEF WALL CALENDAR, featuring national, religious and family holidays. Illustrated with art by children from around the world ($1.50, UNICEF). With this delightful and economical calendar, almost every day can be a holiday. Did you know about Tu B'Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day) or Sechselaeuten in Switzerland? Some months, there's a reason to party almost every day. December may well hold the record with only seven days that are not holidays.

THE FOOD CALENDAR, compiled by Carol Schneider ($6.95, Universe), has 12 of the most lucious color photos of any wall calendar of the year, together with a recipe. Alan Dennis' picture of a spoon full of honey is one of the most beautiful pieces of photography you'll ever see. Sweets to the sweet.

NYNY, an engagement calendar, compiled by Sarah Monatague ($6.95, Universe), is a grand collection of New York City photographs, from a town house garden photographed by Norman McGrath to Ruby Keeler in "42nd Street" to a Great White Way photo by Jake Rajs, along with an occassional note of New York lore.

MILESTONES IN NAVAL AVIATION, 1910-1980, is a pictorial engagement calendar, compiled by Commander Robert P. Brewer ($6.95, The United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Md. 21402). "There are those who hold that the first U.S. naval-oriented flight occurred on 10 November 1861, when Prof. T. S. C. Lowe launched his first balloon reconnaissance of Confederate positions from the Union Navy's coal-barge 'carrier,' the George Washington Parke Custis, on the Potomac," writes Commander Brewer at the beginning of this fact-filled book. Anyone who has ever stood transfixed in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum will have to have this calendar.

THE WRETCHED MESS CALENDAR FOR 1981, is perpetrated by Milford ("Stanley") Poltroon, and published by William Kaufmann, all of whom should reconsider before next year.

THE GAY ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR 1981, compiled by Martin Greif, ($5.95, St. Martin's Press) with an underground history of homosexuality and a titilating (to some) list of people who were, who weren't, or who were said to be. Suggestive photographs.

NATIVE VOICES, engagement diary by Majorie Zelko Goldstein and Seth Goldstein ($5.95, Universe Books). Twenty-six photographs of authors and quotations from and about them: Ring Lardner to Henry Miller, Anais Nin to Gertrude Stein, Richard Wright to W. E. B. Du Bois. You may well become so interested, you won't be able to do anything but read all day.

THE GARFIELD 1981 CALENDAR, by Jim Davis ($4.95, Ballantine Books). As Garfield puts it in this wall calendar, "Eat and Sleep, Eat and Sleep, Eat and Sleep. There must be more to a cat's life than that. But I hope not."

THE PAGE-A-DAY 1981 CALENDARS are with us again. Each of the group of four is $5.95, all published by Workman Publishing, N.Y.:

"The 365 Jokes Ha! Puns & Ha! Riddles Calendar." Jan. 5, Monday: "Doris: Darling, I've just come up with a great way to reduce our bills. Morris: Wonderful. What's it called? Doris: Microfilm."

"The 365 Baseball Facts-a-Year Calendar." July 28: "For the 6th time. Mickey Mantle hits HRs from both sides of the plate in the same game. He will repeat the switch-slugging feat 4 more times."

"The 365 Great Quotes-a-Year Calendar." Feb. 1: "Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders."

"The 365 New-Words-a-Year Calendar." March 2: "solipsism . . . n. Philos, the theory that only the self exists or can be proven to exist." History, Civic Affairs and Nostalgia

THE WASHINGTON POST 1981 ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR ($6.95 postpaid outside the District of Columbia and at The Washington Post front desk; $7.30 including sales tax postpaid in the District). Produced by The Washington Post Promotion Department. I may be prejudiced, but I think this collection of photographs by The Post's staff is a splendid memoir of what life's like here, in this most photogenic city. There are notes on past events and a few on future ones by Sharon Isch; designed by Ed Schneider; typography by Scott Custin; printed by the Wolk Press.

WASHINGTON, D.C. 1981, (about $5, Photri Calendars, Box 971, Alexandria, Va. 22313). The name is not accurate -- one photograph is of Mount Vernon, the other of Arlington, but the photographs are handsome. The cover photograph, showing the capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial all lined up, is a stock shot but gorgeous.

THE WOMAN'S CALENDAR, 1981 is an engagement book by Jurate Kazickas ($5.95, E.P. Dutton). July 17: "Roger Moore says that feminism affected his latest James Bond film, 'Moonraker,' for while his movies are 'not for women's libbers . . . there is a change in direction -- the women in 'Moonraker' are perpendicular instead of horizontal' (1979)." Sept. 24: "Only 1 in 4 married women will be a full-time housewife and mother by 1990, predict the authors of 'The Subtle Revolution: Women at Work,' published today (1979)."

D.C. LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS 1981 WALL CALENDAR ($2, available from the League by calling 785-2616 between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday). Everyone who lives in the District should have this calendar, if only for the telephone numbers for government services, councilmen and education board members, the election schedule, and voter information. On the day, it also carries school closings and tax-due dates.

THE 1981 AMERICAN HERITAGE DESK CALENDAR & HISTORICAL ALMANAC ($14.50, American Heritage Co-Charles Scribner's Sons). This handsome, gift-edged, red-covered hardback book is the ideal object to set upon your Chippendale desk. Each week has a historic photograph. Facing June 15: "The Union Army at last permitted black recruits to sign up on June 19, 1863. This guard detail of the 107th U.S. Colored Infantry was photographed in front of the guard house at Fort Corcoran, near Washington."

THE 1981 RAILROAD CALENDAR ($4.25, Potomac Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, P.O. Box 235, Kensington, Md. 20795) with 13 color photos of stem, diesel and electric trains.

THE AMERICAN VISION, a wall calendar produced in cooperation with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ($6.95, Universe). Mary Cassatt's ladies taking "A Cup of Tea," Childe Hassam's "Boston Common at Twilight" -- these nostalgic paintings show an America that probably never existed, but we wish it had.

AMERICAN PLACES, an engagement calendar in cooperation with The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. ($6.95, Universe). Childe Hassam, again this time painting "Fifth Avenue, Noon (1916)" and "Mount Hood, Oregon (1904)" along with other pleasant memories of the past by other artists.

A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY engagement calendar published in cooperation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation ($6.95, Universe). Splendid architectural, measured drawings from the Historic American Buildings Survey, and photographs such as Douglas R. Horne's Park McCullough House in Bennington, Vt., make this an appropriate gift for those who like old houses and old landscapes.

LIVING HISTORY CALENDAR FOR 1981: The Old Sturbridge Village ($6.95, The Stephen Greene Press, Brattleboro, Vt.). The pictures show people dressed up in ye olde costumeys pretending to do ye olde workey. Entertainment

1981 THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE DESK DIARY, edited by Thomas Wiener and the AFI staff ($14.95, $16.45 postpaid; members, $13.50 plus postage; the American Film Institute, John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. 20566). This year, when even the president was sent from Central Casting, this should be the diary to display on your desk and to give as gifts. It's filled with dramatic full-page photographs for each month and smaller photographs by the week, with tidbits of film lore.

THE MOVIE FAN'S CALENDAR, by Harold P. Burbage Jr. and Michelle Jaal ($4.95, Universe). Jan. 14: Did you know that the "first actress to wear pants in a flick reportedly was Billy Burke in 'Peggy.' 'It does not detract from the picture,' one reviewer comments, 1916." Or March 28: "'The Conqueror' released, 1956. Producer Howard Hughes, the mysterious millionaire, buys up every print and refuses to let it be shown or sold to TV. It isn't seen again until after his death. Movie stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward."

DANCING TIMES: George Balanchine in America, an engagement calendar, by Nancy Reynolds ($6.95, Universe). Balanchine rehearsing Kay Mazzo and Peter Martins, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride, and 50 other toe-tapping photographs with notes on dance history. Verse and Worse

ROBERT FROST 1981 ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR, Poems by Robert Frost, photograph by Dewitt Jones ($8.95 boxed; Holt, Rinehart and Winston). Bucolic pleasures in words and pictures.

THE KAHLIL GIBRAN DIARY for 1981, with a selection for each week from "The Prophet & His Other Writings" ($5.95, Alfred A. Knopf). "Style and ideas are one," said the prophet. And whether you find Gibran a true prophet, the book in red, ivory or blue is nicely made with a blank page every two days for writing your own prophecies.

THE CALLIGRAPHERS' ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR 1981 is a pentalic book of musical quotations, edited by Paul Freeman ($9.95, Taplinger Publishing Co.). It shows again the wisdom of Mae West's remark: "It isn't what you say, it's the way that you say it." Indeed, as in the quotation -- and the design-- by Paul Freeman, you can't tell at all what's being written, but the design, of a Middle Easterner performing on a stringed instrument, is interesting. The calendar closes with this thought: "The opera is not over until the fat lady sings."

THE THOMAS MERTON 1981 APPOINTMENT CALENDAR, text and photographs by Thomas Merton, selected and edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart ($7.95, Andrews and McMeel). Merton the philosopher carries his philosophy into these sometimes touching photographs.