I suppose there are all sorts of corny jokes I could make. One is in the title of this diary. Another is the title of the old song “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” However, today’s topic from the RedState Department of History deals with how we learned to figure out what today’s day and date really is.
For over 1,500 years, we had determined the day and date using the Julian calendar, but on this date in 1752, Great Britain, and by extension its American colonies, adopted Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar in what to be known as the “Gregorian Adjustment.” As a result, this anniversary doesn’t officially exist. Allow me to explain.
The Julian calendar had worked fairly well, but there were two things it didn’t do: it didn’t accurately track leap years and as those errors added up, the calendar grew out of synch with the seasons and equinoxes.
Not one to fall for such a problem (see what I did there?), Pope Gregory decided to spring into action (so to speak). He instituted a new calendar in 1582 which called for leap years every four years as in the Julian calendar, but not in round-numbered century years (1300, 1400, 1500, etc.) unless that number was also divisible by 400.
Originally, the idea was to make Easter fall at the correct time of year. Under the old calendar, the year started in March, when spring came (and in England, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 26 for many years). That’s why the word “December” means “tenth month” in Latin — because until 1752 in England, it was.
But in order to make the calendar match the seasons again, eleven days had to be removed. As such, the calendar went from September 2, 1752 to September 14, 1752 overnight. Reports of the day indicated that some people felt the government had stolen eleven days from people’s lives, but Benjamin Franklin, ever the wit, had a differing opinion.
“It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”
The issue of the day was that not everyone had obeyed Gregory’s edict to change calendars — some Protestant countries did not feel the need to obey, for example — and nations around the world switched calendars at various times in the ensuing years.
Catholic France switched immediately, but Protestant Germany didn’t switch until 1700, and of course England waited until 1752. Orthodox nations waited still longer, with Greece waiting until 1923 — and even then the Orthodox Church didn’t go along. Far Eastern nations used different calendars as well, as did some Islamic nations. China waited until 1912 to change calendars and the Communists instituted another change when they gained power in 1949.
Russia, being Russia, had to do it differently from everyone else. Prior to 1700, the year was determined from what was believed to be Biblical creation, with Peter the Great switching to the Julian calendar in 1700 (or 7208 in Russian-speak). During the Russian Civil War, each side used a different calendar, to create even more confusion:
“The White forces continued to use the Julian calendar, while the Red forces used the Gregorian, so the calendar in question would vary by location, and even by who controlled the area. Some areas changed hands many times, and the eastern areas of Russia may not have changed until around 1920.”
The Russians also had February 30 in 1930 and 1931 as in the truest spirit of socialism, they tried to make all the months the same length. And, in the finest tradition of central planning, their math didn’t work.
Sweden had a February 30 in 1712 due to an error in calculation when it switched calendars. Due to the passage of time from Gregory’s papal bull 140 years earlier, they needed to advance twelve days instead of eleven to make up for the error in the Julian calendar — hence the extra-special day.
Happy Sunday (at least I think it’s Sunday) and enjoy today’s open thread!