Saturday, January 19, 2019 | ePaper

The Gregorian calendar

  • Print
Brad Plumer :
Back in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the 10 days following October 4 simply wouldn't exist. The next day would be ... October 15. Thereafter, a new calendar would come into effect that would better align the months with earth's journey around the sun. This would correct a mismatch in the old Roman calendar, first set up by Julius Caesar, that was causing the months to fall steadily out of line with the seasons.
The Gregorian calendar, with its intricate dance of leap days and leap years, seems utterly banal to those of us in the Western world today. But it's worth pausing to reflect on what an odd system it is - and how we actually got here in the first place.
The fundamental problem that anyone making a calendar has to grapple with is the fact that it takes just a shade more than 365 days for earth to make a full trip around the sun. More precisely, it takes 365.24219 days.
So if you construct a calendar with only 365 days, the seasons will fall ever so slowly out of whack with the months, as the video by Joss Fong demonstrates.
This dilemma was grasped early on by astronomers in Alexandria, Egypt, who helped Julius Caesar devise a new calendar in 46 BC. Until that point, the Roman calendar was a messy hodgepodge, with extra days tacked on in February every now and again based on the whims of politicians. Caesar wanted a steadier, more reliable way to mark the dates.
But the new Julian calendar that resulted was still flawed. It had a leap day every four years, which turned out to be an overcorrection. The average year now had 365.25 days in it - just a shade more than 365.24219.
By the 1570s, those slight differences had added up. The calendar was now out of sync with the solar year by about 10 days.
So, in 1577, Pope Gregory XIII appointed a Commission, led by Physician Aloysius Lilius and Astronomer Christopher Clavius, to solve the problem. It took them five years, but they came up with a fix: First, let's just eliminate those extra 10 days and get back on schedule. Gone! Next, let's tweak the system of leap years. We'll have leap years every four years except on centennial years that aren't divisible by 400. So there's a leap year in 2000, but not in 1900 or 1800 or 1700.
This changed the length of the average year to 365.2425 days. Still not perfect, but close enough. Gregory also moved the New Year from March 25 (the Feast of Annunciation) to January 1.
Not everyone adopted the Gregorian calendar right away
The Orthodox faith used the old Julian calendar, in which Christmas 13 days after its more widespread Gregorian calendar counterpart.
Since he was Pope, Gregory was able to persuade Catholic countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal to adopt the new calendar immediately. But Protestant countries were wary of this new Popish initiative, seeing it as a suspicious intrusion.
Great Britain and the American colonies didn't actually switch over until 1752. (When they finally did, they had to erase 11 days.) Sweden only made the change in 1753. Turkey was split between the Julian and Islamic calendars until 1917.
During the French Revolution, meanwhile, leaders in France decided to purge their calendars of any religious overtones. The new French Republican calendar, adopted in 1792, had 12 identical months of 30 days. Weeks had 10 days in them. And there were five or six extra days at the end of each year for holidays. The calendar also renamed the months, with monikers like Brumaire or Thermidor. That calendar was abandoned in 1805 and only revived briefly by the Paris Commune in 1871.Nowadays, the Gregorian calendar has largely conquered the world, and most countries now follow it for coordination purposes.
But countries don't always follow the Gregorian schedule to celebrate New Year's. That holiday is often based on lunar cycles and doesn't necessarily fall on January 1. The Persian New Year in Iran, for instance, is determined by the Northern Hemisphere's vernal equinox.
Even the current Gregorian calendar isn't perfect. As noted above, the Gregorian calendar is just a tad out of sync with Earth's trip 'round the sun. The difference isn't huge - we'll have an extra day to deal with by 4909 - but it's enough to bother some persnickety calendar mavens.
The Gregorian calendar also has a bunch of oddities. Unlike the French Republican calendar, our months are uneven, some 31 days, some 30, plus the monstrosity that is February. What's more, each year dates fall on different days of the week.
Some reformers have suggested we change the calendar to correct these blemishes. At Johns Hopkins University, Steve Hanke and Richard Henry have proposed the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, which would have 364 days every year plus a "leap week" tacked on every five or six years to adjust for the error. The advantage here, they say, is that the calendar would be the same every year. October 4 would always fall on a Wednesday, for instance. No need for confusing updates to calendars.
But probably we'll just muddle along with the Gregorian calendar. If worst comes to worst, we can always convene again in 4909 and remove that pesky day.Earth's rotation is also troublesome - which is why we have to add leap seconds Tick tock. (Shutterstock) By the way, leap days aren't the only hassle for timekeepers. We also have leap seconds to contend with. It technically takes earth a bit longer than 24 hours to complete a full rotation: 86,400.002 seconds rather than 86,400. So in order to keep our clocks matched up with solar noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, a leap second gets added every few years.
Since the practice began in 1972, 27 out of 44 years have included leap seconds. What makes this tricky is that timekeepers can't just add these on a predictable schedule, because the earth's rotation is constantly speeding up and slowing down in ways that are tough to foresee. Over the long term, tidal friction is gradually lengthening the time it takes earth to make one full rotation. But other factors like glacial melt, wind, storms, and more also affect the length of the day.
-https://www.vox.com/2016/10/.../434th-gregorian-calendar-anniversary-google-doogl..

More News For this Category

Thoughts on English New Year's Day

Thoughts on English New Year's Day

Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim :IntroductionJanuary 1, the English New Year's Day once again dawns on earth's diurnal course. The day shines with a jovial mood of greeting the New

The Gregorian calendar

Brad Plumer :Back in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the 10 days following October 4 simply wouldn't exist. The next day would be ... October 15. Thereafter, a

New Year's Day : History and celebration

New Year's Day : History and celebration

Mohammad Mamun Mia :New Year's Day is the first day of the New Year, following both the Gregorian and the Julian calendar. This Day is often marked by fireworks,

Liberation  War and our glorious Victory Prof. Dr. Anwarul Karim

Liberation War and our glorious Victory Prof. Dr. Anwarul Karim

Introduction :Bangladesh today celebrates the 48th Victory day with pomp and grandeur after the country was liberated from the hands of the Army Junta of Pakistan led by infamous

Victory Day of Bangladesh

Great Victory of Bangladesh was achieved after a nine   month long War of sacrifice of lives and property. The day is celebrated to commemorate the Victory of the allied

Independence, how this word became ours

Nirmalendu Goon  A poem will be written.The rebel-audience of millions have been waiting in the park-shore of the ocean of people, with eager excitement-since the morning:'When shall the poet

Our struggle and Victory

Our struggle and Victory

December 16, Victory Day is a red letter day in the history of Bangladesh. Our celebration commemorates the victory of the allied forces over the Pakistani forces in the

Suhrawardy and his Democratic vision

Suhrawardy and his Democratic vision

 The world today, (December 5, 2018), more particularly, the whole of Indian sub-continent, comprising the present India, Bangladesh and Pakistan mournfully observes the 55th death anniversary of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy,

H.S. Suhrawardy : Leader of the people

Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy played a pivotal role in establishing democracy in the Indian Subcontinent. He was born into an eminent Muslim family in Midnapore in the then Bengal (now part

Messenger of mercy : Prophecy of Buddha

Abdul Muqit Chowdhury :Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) is the final Messenger of Allah Rabbul 'Alameen. He (Prophet) is Rahmatullil 'Alameen-blessing for all the creatures of the universe. Thus, Allah being