For those in hemispheres that are currently in winter, it has been a very cold winter. One might think we were following the ancient Viking calendar which boasted only two seasons – summer and winter. From October to April was winter in Scandinavia and it has seemed that winter came in late October and has stayed in much of North America and other locations. Ancient calendars were based upon the weather and were bright ideas to help the natives keep track of time and whether they should be planting, harvesting, storing things away over the winter, etc.
The oldest known calendar is in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is a lunar calendar and dates back to 8000 BCE. It was the Sumerians, though, who were best known for the lunar calendar. The Sumerian calendar had twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days, much like our modern Gregorian calendar. Native cultures in the Americas also developed their own calendars. One of the most complex calendars was the Mayan calendar. It had two separate years: one year had two hundred and sixty days while the other had three hundred and sixty-five days. The Athenians of Greece had a lunisolar calendar with three hundred and sixty-four days. Every other year a month was added, called an intercalary or timekeeping month.
Devising a calendar to keep track of the passage of time was an epiphany but this bright idea was easier in concept than in execution. Even the Romans had two calendars. One divided three hundred and four days into ten months while the other had three hundred and sixty-five days divided into twelve months. The Hindu calendar dates back to around 1000 BCE and divided a solar year of three hundred sixty days into twelve lunar months. Every five years or so, they would also add an intercalary month.
A system was developed in the eighth century by a Latin named Bede the Venerable to date things from before and after the birth of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. His method of dating slowly began to become accepted over the next six centuries. However, if one was using the birth of Jesus as ground zero for dating, then the years before his birth had to be numbered backward.
In 1267 ACE scientist Roger Bacon affixed exact times to days, hours, minutes, and seconds and for most of the world this method of keeping time is still in use. The calendar system, though, was still quite varied. The Byzantine Church set the date of Creation at 5509 BCE. The Coptic Church fixed on 5500 BCE and in 1650, Archbishop Ussher of the Church of England picked 4004 BCE. Jewish scholars preferred 3761 BCE as the date of creation and this forms the basis of the modern Jewish calendar today. While for Christians and Jews, the year of Creation is called Annus Mundi, any real attempts by religious groups to determine the age of the world has been put aside. Thus, not all bright ideas or epiphanies have the same conclusion.
The need to know where we are, though, still remains. For many, it is still an agricultural society and the calendar dictates the tasks needed to ensure crops and cattle are properly tended, planned for, and harvested. For the more industrialized nations, the need for knowing where one is or should be is even greater. With millions needing to move around the large cities, the chimes of clocks heard throughout the cities help maintain order. With technology enabling international travel and business, having a unified system of dates and time is paramount to successful economies.
Getting everyone on the same page, however, did not happen overnight. In fact, on September 2, 1752, six and a half million British subjects went to bed only to awake the following morning on September 14th. Yes, they slept eight hours and gained eleven days! If you remember, the ancient calendars all had to have some way of altering their calendar. Time may be a constant but it is not even.
In 1582, Pope Gregory issued an edict stating those countries under his dominion would have to “skip” some days. The Julian calendar used called for a year to be three hundred and sixty-five days, six hours. The problem is that a year is actually three hundred and sixty-five days, five hours, and forty-nine minutes. Those eleven minutes were starting to add up and being to mess with Easter, a high holiday for the Roman Catholic faith. The Pope was not pleased. Thus, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Luxembourg, and Poland/Lithuania (one commonwealth at that time) all followed the edict, known as a papal bull. Over the next fifty years, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, and Prussia all followed and made the change to following the Gregorian calendar.
England, however, had split from the Roman Church and was still following the Julian calendar. People often used both dates when writing letters to those on mainland Europe. It made for very confusing times and people often wondered exactly what day they were living. The Calendar Act of 1750 stated: “In and throughout all his Majesty’s dominions and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, belonging or subject to the crown of Great Britain,” the act continued, “the second day of September in the said year one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two inclusive; and that the natural day next immediately following the said second day of September shall be called, reckoned, and accounted to be the fourteenth day of September, omitting for that time only the eleven intermediate nominal days of the common calendar.” Russia did not make the change until 1918 and Greece held out until 1923. Both of those countries needed to skip thirteen days rather than eleven.
While some might jokingly claim the calendar adjustment to be a version of a future time machine, it does bring up some interesting points. Where are we? As the New Year approached and was celebrated, people all over the world made resolutions and plans for the upcoming year. Calendars, someone’s bright idea centuries ago, help us keep track of those plans and goals.
For the faithful, calendars help keep track of their spiritual holidays and meanings. At some point, we have all needed a hand and have cried out “Here I am!” The epiphany of the calendar helps us keep track of our days and to know exactly where we are. Different religions still have their own calendars. The Gregorian calendar year of 2015 is the Jewish calendar year 5776. The Islamic New Year or Muharram will be October 15, 2015.
Unifying the calendar has not taken away one’s identity as the early British people feared. It is still important to know where we are, what day it is so that we can stand up and say “Here I am”. How we live those days not only helps us keep track of where we are or need to be or tasks at hand, it defines what and who we are. Hopefully, we all stand up and let the world see by our actions that we are people of kindness, people who care. Hopefully, as we walk through our busy days, the path we lead will say good things about us so that when we are gone, the world will know we were there and be glad.