Let’s Change the Calendar

On this, the last day of 2011, most of us seem to be looking back at the past year and thinking about what happened or looking forward to the new year and what it will bring. Personally, I’ve always been bothered by the fact that the calendar we use does not reflect natural cycles. It is true that our year very closely matches one trip around the sun, though even now, we’re still off by 26 seconds per year.

But there’s no natural significance to the January 1 beginning of the year. Our months of 30, 31, 28, or 29 days reflect no natural cycle and neither does the 7-day interval of a week.

Early calendars were based on natural cycles. The Chinese, Babylonians and Greeks all based their calendars on the lunar cycle with months that lasted 19 days. The Egyptians had 12 months of 30 days, with a five day festival at year end. But they did not account for the extra quarter day every year and their calendars got off the solar cycle as years went by.

The Romans thought even numbers were unlucky, so months had either 29 or 31 days, except for February which for some reason they allowed to be 28 days. To make the Roman  calendar match the solar year, they had to add an extra month of 22 or 23 days call Mercedonius.

In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, making 12 months of 30 or 31 days and adding an extra day every four years. It was Julius Caesar who also decided to change the beginning of the year from the vernal equinox in March to the beginning of January. For about the past 2,000 years, ever since the changes to the Roman calendar, the beginning and end of our year are arbitrary and based on nothing in the natural world.

The Roman or Julian calendar as it was called was still off by 11 minutes annually. It continued to  be used until the 15th century and by then, it deviated from the solar orbit by about a week. In 1545 the Council of Trent authorized Pope Paul III to reform the calendar. Pope Gregory XIII made the reform official by instituting a new more accurate calendar, and it is the one we use today, called the Gregorian calendar.

For about 650 years now, everyone in western society had used the Gregorian calendar and it now seems impossible that there could be any changes to the traditional calendar year. But I think we should think about that. That five day festival the Egyptians celebrated at the end of the year sounds like a good idea. We almost do that anyway. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a time when many of  our institutions shut down anyway. Let’s party.

And I pesonally would like to see the year start on some sort of astronomical day of importance, a solstice or an equinox. If you’re the kind of person who observes the waxing and waning of the moon, maybe that would be a more natural period for one of our months, just like it used to be in Babylon, Greece and China.

As I see it, humans have gotten isolated from the natural cycle of things, so celebrating natural cycles would take us in the right direction and return us to thinking more about the natural cosmos. We humans need to be more in touch with nature, because, after all, we are part of it.

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2 responses to “Let’s Change the Calendar

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