Little Bits of History

Skipping Ahead

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 2, 2015
Pope Gregory

Pope Gregory

September 2, 1752: Great Britain and all her colonies adopt the Gregorian calendar. It is also called the Western or Christian calendar and is the most widely used civil calendar in use today. It was named for Pope Gregory XIII who introduced it in 1582. The Julian calendar had been a great improvement when Julius Caesar introduced it in 45 BC. It was this calendar that divided the 365 days of the year into twelve months. The months were not quite the same name since August, named for Augustus would not have been included before his rule. Quintilis (Latin for fifth) was the month eventually named after Caesar himself, first as Iulius and then as July.

The Julian calendar was just slightly off. The 0.002% was barely noticeable. But after 1627 years, it had added up to make enough of a difference that plotting out when exactly Easter should be was a problem. Easter’s date is tied to the spring equinox and it was falling at an inappropriate time. The creation of the new calendar had two parts, a reform of the calendar in regards to the lunar cycle and a reform to calculate a more appropriate date for Easter. It was initially adopted only by Catholic European countries. Protestant and Eastern Orthodox countries continued to use the Julian calendar with Greece being the last to adopt the newfangled thing only in 1923.

The Earth’s trip around the sun isn’t conveniently perfectly aligned with its rotational spin. Therefore, even with a leap day added every fourth year, it was still going to eventually be out of sync again. It takes 365 day, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds for the Earth to get precisely around the sun. The ten minutes and 48 seconds needed to be accounted for and so there are certain times when the leap day is skipped. The Julian calendar was pretty precise but the Gregorian calendar was even more precise by skipping three leap days every 400 years. We are used to the year starting on January 1, but this has not always been the case. Regardless of when the first day of the year is, it is still 365.2425 days long.

European Catholic countries were quick to adopt the calendar. Nova Scotia, Prussia, and Alsace all picked it up in the 1600s. Protestant Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Iceland all switched in 1700. The next country to pick up the calendar was Great Britain. The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, also called Chesterfield’s Act because it was introduced into Parliament by Lord Chesterfield, not only adopted the Gregorian calendar, but switched the start of the year from March 25 (Lady Day) to January 1. With more international trade and communication, it became increasingly  difficult to have two different calendars. In order to align the calendar with what most of the rest of Europe was using, Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14.

Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress. – Charles F. Kettering

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. – Oscar Wilde

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in a year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another gets a full year’s value out of a week. – Charles Richards

We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery. – H. G. Wells

Also on this day: Liberal Arts and Music – In 1833, Oberlin College was founded.
London Burns – In 1666, the Great Fire of London began.
World War II – In 1945, the war ended.
Rock Springs – In 1885, the Rock Springs Massacre took place.
Buried – In 1806, a Swiss city was buried in a landslide.


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