Leap years, leap days, and missing days — the importance of calendars

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Avondale United Methodist Men’s club had a fairly good rolling conversation around the table Thursday night. My son Nathan described it as the same methodology used in a podcast, except without the recording. A group of people who are talking. They start with one topic, and then either build off of it, expanding to other ones, or else think of other subjects that will pique the group’s interest. Podcasts are meant and recorded for an audience. Our conversation wasn’t.

One of the subjects our circle discussed was the question of calendars. The world has various civil and religious calendars, and the way various religious holidays are calculated vary based on the religious group and the calendars that they are using.

Of particular interest to us Westerners, was the change from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar, which was basically the Roman calendar, inserts too many leap years. It got so the Church calendar had festivals meant for the beginning of spring occurring 10 days to late.

So in 1582 Pope Gregory issued a Papal Bull amending the calendar, and dropping 10 days to bring the seasons back in line. Those who lived in Catholic countries went to sleep on Oct. 4, 1582, and woke up on Oct. 15, 1582.

But the reformation had already occurred, so the change did not occur for everyone who had been following the Julian calendar. It took until 1752 for the English-speaking world to make the change. Thus people went to sleep on Sept. 2 and woke up on Sept. 14.

One interesting historical impact of this is that George Washington was not born on Feb. 22, the day that we celebrate his birthday. He was born in the Julian Calendar on Feb. 11, which becomes Feb. 22 when converted to the Gregorian Calendar.

But is that how people really did it? Did they change the date of their birth when the calendar changed, or did they observe the same Calendar date as from the old calendar.  Which would you do?  In the honoring of his birthday, we have done the date change, so I would assume that is what Washington did, but I don’t have a source yet to truly tell me one or the other.

Just another example of how things we take as solid to base our lives on, are in one sense solid, and another constructions of our need for them to be solid.

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