Friday, January 01, 2016

Calendar Chaos

If you live long enough -- and the Colonel has -- the arrival of a new calendar year begins to lose its significance.

Seriously. Why must we celebrate the passing of a day on the calendar that is so arbitrarily granted significance?


The Colonel bets that the two dozen of you who regularly waste rod and cone time perusing posts hereon have no earthly idea why our calendar year begins on the first day of the month of January.

Allow the Colonel to edumacate you.

The calendar we in the western world today use to track our comings and goings is but the latest in evolutionary refinements to day/season-tracking that dates back to them fellers who first dreamed up the crazy societal-suicidal concept of democracy.  The Greek lunar calendar was adopted by the Romans when they decided to one-up the Greeks in the known-world domination game.

But, there was a big problem with dating things according to a lunar calendar -- the lunar cycle is shorter than the solar cycle.

Yeah, the Colonel knows... the readership just dropped to one dozen.  He congratulates those of you who are still hanging in there --  you are princes among men and women above reproach, with a thirst for knowledge and a taste for the finer things in life.

That, or you have absolutely nothing else of any redeeming value to do with your time at the moment.

Because a lunar calendar caused the most important days of the year to occur on dramatically different dates each solar year, the Romans shifted to a 365 day year, and then this feller named Julius Caesar commissioned the creation of a calendar that accounted for the fact that a solar year (as far as we Earthlings were concerned) is actually 365 and 6 hours long.  This new Julian calendar was instituted in 45 BC and was the calendar of record in the western world for the next 16 centuries. 

But..., the Julian calendar had its own accuracy problem.

See, the Earth actually takes about eleven minutes less than 365 days and 6 hours to complete one revolution 'round ol' Sol.  Because the Julian Calendar added an extra (leap) day every four years, it actually gained a day every 400 years.  As a result, the Julian Calendar's date for the Vernal Equinox had slipped from 21 March to 10 March by the time the 16th Century rolled around.
So, in 1582, this feller named Ugo Boncompagni commissioned the creation of a new and improved calendar to account for the discrepancy.

Never heard of Ugo Boncompagni?  Well, he's the man who gave us the calendar we use today.

Ugo was the name his momma gave him when he came into this world on the 7th of January in 1502.  Later on, when ol' Ugo became Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, he took the name Gregory XIII.

His Gregorian Calendar (actually the brainchild of part-time astronomers Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius) accounted for the discrepancy by adjusting in what years (leap years) an additional day would be added.  Whereas the Julian Calendar had leap years every four years, in the new Gregorian Calendar years evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years...

The Colonel knows what you're thinking: "Wait a minute, we had a leap year in 2000..."

Yep, even a Bama grad knows that 2000 is evenly divisible by 100.

Just so happens that Lilius and Clavius figured this thing so well that their equation called for years evenly divisible by 400 to remain leap years.

So, if you wanna see the next usual leap year not have a leap day you're gonna have to be alive at the end of February 2100.

Good luck with that.

In the 16th Century the Roman Catholic Church was pretty much the western world's universal authority on most things large and small.  On the 24th of February 1582, Pope Gregory XlII decreed in a papal bull (not makin' that up) that the day following Thursday 4 October 1582 would not be 5 October 1582.  Nope, to account for the discrepancy inherent in the Julian Calendar, nearly two weeks would have to be leaped.  Friday 5 October 1582 would now be Friday 14 October 1582.

A few predominantly Catholic European countries adopted the new calendar as decreed.

It took another couple of centuries before the rest of the Western World all got on board.     

This wasn't a very popular papal bull.

Most folks saw it as a way to cheat them out of earned wages.

Anybody with a birthday of 5 through 13 October got no cake in 1582, or the year in which their country eventually adopted Ugo's calendar.

Some major metropolitan areas (such as they were in those days) experienced calendar riots.

It's not as paradox-ridden as the concept of time travel, but the two- century long shift to the new calendar causes serious historians a bit of consternation when trying to accurately nail down the exact date of things that occurred in the late 16th to early 18th Centuries.  The Colonel won't bore you with specifics, and he sees some LSU grads' eyes glazing over...

The Colonel does, however, notice the quizzical look on the faces of some of the more inquisitive of you.  You still want to know why our calendar year starts on the 1st of January, don't you?

Yes, you do!

Allow the Colonel to edumacate you. 

Blame it on the Romans.  By the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman New Year had shifted from the spring equinox (as used in antiquity) to the first day of Janus (January) to coincide with the date on which new Roman Consuls took office. 

The Colonel won't get into the whole BC/BCE -- AD/CE accounting here.

There ain't nobody left to read it.        

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