Fun With Calendars

September 1, 2014

Today, in celebration of a holiday weekend, we are going to have fun with calendars! So, as Bill Cosby used to say on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”, “This is Bill Cosby comin’ at you with music and fun,
and if you’re not careful you may learn something before it’s done.
So let’s get ready, OK? Hey, hey, hey.”

The first thing you need to know about calendars, is that every one of them is completely ARBITRARY. There is nothing in the solar system or planet that says “start here”. Calendars are all man made, beginning at some determined point, usually based upon some significant event or the position of the sun at certain times of the year, i.e. equinoxes.

The calendar most of you use is made up of Viking days, composing Babylonian/Roman weeks, which fill Roman months, in an overall system refined by a Roman dictator (Julius Caesar), and finalized by a Catholic pope (Gregory XIII), who was also Italian.

I bet you never realized how much you owe to Italians.

I have previously written about weeks and days, but a quick repeat is in order. We do not get the 7 day week from the bible. The Jews did not adopt a seven day week until after the Babylonian Exile, some time around 650 BC. The Romans had already changed to a 7 day week long before Christianity took hold. The days of the week were previously named for Roman gods, changed in English speaking countries to Viking ones.

Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 46 BC. The previous Roman calendar had drifted so much, summer religious rituals were being performed in the dead of winter. He tried to approximate the solar year, with a calendar of 365 days in 12 months. A leap day was added every 4 years to account for the 365.25 days of the actual solar year. Greek astronomers had known for at least 100 years that the year was a few minutes shorter than this, but none of them told Julius.

To make the needed corrections, Caesar made the year 46 BC (year 708 on the Roman calendar) 445 days long!

The current calendar we have uses the term AD after each number. This stands for Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord”. This was adopted after the Christian Church became the dominant power in the Empire, in the year 525. this system was not widely used until the 9th century, over 300 years later. The year before AD 525 was Diocletian 247. confused yet?). Until its adoption, locals used all manner of calendars.

Year 1 AD was considered to be the year that Jesus Christ was born. It was taken from a single line of the bible, Luke 3:1-2 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” and counting backwards to the start of Tiberius’ reign.

In actuality, you should say AD 2014, not 2014 AD. That is how it was originally done, and makes more sense if you sound it out.

Most biblical scholars now believe that this birth date was wrong, and there is a 10-15 year spread depending on sources.

At the time of the adoption of this dating system, the scholars in Europe had no concept of the number Zero, so 1 AD is proceeded by 1 BC, meaning Before Christ. The BC years are treated like negative numbers, counting backwards to year 1 AD.

This dating system is the de facto system for the modern world, most of which is not Christian. You might here the terms CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before the Common Era) used.

As stated, Julius’ calendar was off, and it gained around 3 days every 4 centuries. The major celebration of the Christian Church, Easter, was drifting, and in 1582 a committee was formed to make more precise measurements. The year was changed from 365 days 6 hours to 365 days 5 hours 49 minutes 12 seconds. In addition, the pope decreed that the calendar that year would skip 10 days, restoring March 21st to its proper place.

Not all of the world obeyed the Catholic pope, and this was most especially true in the Orthodox Christian countries. They continued to use the Julian calendar, which caused no end of headaches for merchants and coordinating military campaigns, as the parties involved had different ideas of what day it was. The Gregorian calendar was not universally adopted until the 20th century.

Many places on earth use a dual dating system, the Gregorian calendar and some local one, such as the Islamic calendar, of which today is 6/11/1435; the 6th of Dhu al-Qi’dah, 1435 A.H., meaning anno Hijiri, the year Muhammad emigrated to Medina. Many local calendars are lunar, which drift 11 to 12 days a year.

As if knowing what year it was was hard enough, determining when that year started was worse. The Romans used January 1st, Janus being the Roman god of beginnings. That is the official start of the Gregorian Year now.

In the Middle Ages, the new year usually started in March, as the world emerged from the winter ice. Easter and Christmas have also been used as the start of a new year.

In England, the new year started on March 25th, Lady Day, the feast of the Virgin Mary. George II changed the new year in 1751, so that year started on March 25th, lasted 282 days, and 1752 started on January 1.

I am certain that you are familiar with a large number of new years. I have personally witnessed Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, and Muslim new year, along with the standard one. There is usually good food and fun for all.

Hey, hey, hey, I hope you had fun today.


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