Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year 2007, at least in our present calendar. But as late as 1752, it was very different...... The story of the Julian and Gregorian calendar

September 2, 1752, was a great day in the history of sleep.

That Wednesday evening, millions of British subjects in England and the colonies went peacefully to sleep and did not wake up until twelve days later.

Behind this feat of narcoleptic prowess was not some revolutionary hypnotic technique or miraculous pharmaceutical discovered in the West Indies. It was, rather, the British Calendar Act of 1751, which declared the day after Wednesday the second to be Thursday the fourteenth.

Prior to that cataleptic September evening, the official British calendar differed from that of continental Europe by eleven days that is, September 2 in London was September 13 in Paris, Lisbon, and Berlin. The discrepancy had sprung from Britain's continued use of the Julian calendar, which had been the official calendar of Europe since its invention by Julius Caesar (after whom it was named) in 45 B.C.

Caesar's calendar, which consisted of eleven months of 30 or 31 days and a 28-day February (extended to 29 days every fourth year), was actually quite accurate: it erred from the real solar calendar by only 11 minutes a year. After centuries, though, even a small inaccuracy like this adds up. By the sixteenth century, it had put the Julian calendar behind the solar one by 10 days.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered the advancement of the calendar by 10 days and introduced a new corrective device to curb further error: century years such as 1700 or 1800 would no longer be counted as leap years, unless they were (like 1600 or 2000) divisible by 400.

If somewhat inelegant, this system is undeniably effective, and is still in official use in the United States. The Gregorian calendar year differs from the solar year by only 26 seconds accurate enough for most mortals, since this only adds up to one day's difference every 3,323 years.

Despite the prudence of Pope Gregory's correction, many Protestant countries, including England, ignored the papal bull. Germany and the Netherlands agreed to adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1698; Russia only accepted it after the revolution of 1918, and Greece waited until 1923 to follow suit. And currently many Orthodox churches still follow the Julian calendar, which now lags 13 days behind the Gregorian.

Why So Difficult?

Since their invention, calendars have been used to reckon time in advance, and to fix the occurrence of events like harvests or religious festivals. Ancient peoples tied their calendars to whatever recurring natural phenomena they could most easily observe. In areas with pronounced seasons, annual weather changes usually fixed the calendar; in warmer climates such as Southern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the moon was used to mark time.

Unfortunately, the cycles of the sun and moon do not synchronize well. A lunar year (consisting of 12 lunar cycles, or lunations, each 29 days long) is only 354 days, 8 hours long; a solar year lasts about 365 days. After three years, a strict lunar calendar would have diverged from the solar calendar by 33 days, or more than one lunation.

The Muslim calendar is hence the only purely lunar calendar in widespread use today. Its months have no permanent connection to the seasons Muslim religious celebrations, such as Ramadan, may thus occur at any date of the Gregorian calendar.

The phases of the moon have nonetheless remained a popular way to divide the solar year, if only because a 365-day year doesn't exactly lend itself to equal subdivision (the 71-day month has yet to find favor among menologists). To compensate for the difference in the solar and lunar year, calendar makers introduced the practice of intercalation the addition of extra days or months to the calendar to make it more accurate. The semilunar Hebrew calendar, consisting of twelve 29- and 30-day months, adds an intercalary month seven times every 19 years (which explains the sometimes confusing drift of Passover and consequently Easter through April and March).

This wonderful bit of information was gained by the writings of Ben Snowden.

But let us look at the historical record. After September 1752, everything that preceeded it was really messed up. If you look at the graves of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and many other American historic figures you will see on their graves or on place or memorials at date saying (old style)..So for those folks who were born before 1752 it was really confusing.

What I find most interesting is when we talk of a historic event taking place on such a date 500 years ago....Old style or New style I always ask????

So I wish you all a Happy New Year (new Style) and a Happy mid January (old style)...

Just like many other events, we really do not give them much thought, as to where they have come from.

Best wishes to you all in this new year Happy 2007!


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