September 6 – if you’d been alive on this date in 1752, it would be have been September 14. And so would yesterday and tomorrow and, well, most of next week, really. September was a really messed up month in 1752, at least for Protestants.
Let me back up a bit.
This all has to do with something we take for granted – the calendar. We look at it to see what day it is, but we don’t question whether it’s accurate (unless it has pictures of pet rocks and Mr. T on it, in which case we might want to check the year).
Mankind’s earliest calendars predate most other forms of writing. They were pretty accurate, which is good since they were carved in stone and not real easy to change. But they could never be completely accurate because they were based on two natural phenomena with conflicting numbers- the cycle of the seasons and the phases of the moon. The calendar based on the seasons, referred to as the tropical calendar is 365.2421896698 days long, and growing shorter by about ½ a second every 100 years. While the lunar calendar contains the same number of overall days, it is broken up into12.36826639275 monthly cycles of 29.5305888531 tropical days (and those months are growing slightly longer each year). Since no one really wanted to deal with the idea of having dates like the 23 1/3 of June, calendar makers have been trying to combine these two cycles into a system with mostly whole numbers.
Most of the oldest calendars were based on the lunar cycle, but they had to add months periodically to keep in sync with the tropical year.
The ancient Egyptians essentially invented the modern calendar by creating a standard year of 365 days (twelve months of 30 days plus a five day party at the end of each year). This calendar ignored the phases of the moon and focused on the solar seasons but made no attempt to adjust for the fact that a seasonal year is slightly longer than 365 days. The seasons fell a little later each year – but the years were standard. By ignoring nature this way, I think the Egyptians showed themselves to be the first modern human society. Whether this is something to be proud of, I’m not sure.
The ancient Romans used a lunar calendar with twelve months that seem a lot like ours (similar names and 29-31 days). But they referred to dates much differently – what we call March 9 would be “the sixth day before the Ides of March” to them and after the Ides (mid-month) it got even more confusing. March 17 would be “the 16th day before the Kalends of April.”
By the time Julius Caesar came to power, the calendar was out of sync with the seasons by three full months. He first ordered some corrections, then eventually scrapped the whole thing and adopted a solar year of 365.25 years, decreeing that every fourth year should have an extra day. Sound familiar? But it didn’t work, at least not at the time.
For some reason, the Romans began to add the leap year every third year rather than every fourth, possibly because odd numbers were considered to be bring better luck. The error was corrected in A.D. 8, and from then on the Julian calendar (named after Julius) was adopted throughout the world.
It worked great for centuries. Lots of centuries. But the simple system of the Julian calendar was off by 11 minutes every year so that by 1582 spring on the calendar was not anywhere near spring in terms of flowers, bunnies, etc. And the fate of Easter was hanging in the balance. So Pope Gregory the Great decreed that the calendar should be reformed. Some leap years were taken out and to bring the calendar in line with the solar seasons, ten days were omitted from the new month.
It was brilliant, well-timed and worked so well that we still use it today.
But England wouldn’t accept it. Queen Elizabeth sought advice from her counselors and was ready to proclaim the change. But Church of England leaders denounced the Pope as the Antichrist and you can’t very well adopt the calendar of the Antichrist, so no deal. Since England didn’t adopt the new calendar, neither did any of her colonies (see my post of December 30, 2010). They waited nearly two hundred years to make the switch.
And then September 3-13 were simply voted away by Parliament in 1752.
It would be nice if politicians could vote away the federal deficit just as easily.