I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Most of us measure time by the Gregorian calendar; other systems have been proposed but found wanting.
The Gregorian Calendar
The calendar system we use today was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582; it's based on the faulty assumption that we know when Jesus Christ was born.
There was a time when all years in the Western world were designated as Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD), meaning “the year of our lord.” The letters referenced the supposed years of the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Today, we use the more neutral terms of Before the Common Era (BCE) and the Common Era (CE).
The Common Era dates are based on the assumption that Jesus Christ was born on year one. But, Jesus was a practicing Jew so that year would have been 3761 of the Hebrew calendar. And, that's the first snag we run into.
This is where we meet a monk called Dionysius Exiguus, who lived in what is now Romania in the sixth century CE. The pope of the day asked him to set the dates for Easter for 100 years into the future.
The monk set about his task by deciding when Jesus was born. Associate Professor of religious studies in New Zealand, James A. Veitch writes that “He chose the year in which Rome had been founded and determined, from the evidence known to him, that Jesus had been born 753 years later.” That made New Years Day 754, the first day of the new era, year one of our calendar.
But, it looks as though Dionysius Exiguus's math skills were a bit rickety. The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod, which lasted from 37 BCE to four BCE. That means that the birth of Jesus occurred at least four years, and maybe more, earlier than the date provided by the Romanian monk. But, by the time the sums of Dionysius were double checked and graded by scholars, it was too late to change anything.
So, whatever year you think it is now, you actually have to add at least four years if measuring from the birth of Christ.
The Juche Calendar
For those that are interested, and it's probably not crucial to many, North Korea has its own numbering system for years. In dealing with the outside world, the so-called “hermit kingdom” uses the Gregorian calendar that almost everybody else employs. Within the country, its own unique system designates April 15, 1912 as the moment when year zero began.
The date marks the point at which the country's founder, Kim Il-Sung, was born. Modesty was not his strong suit as his propaganda machine dubbed him “The Ever-Victorious Generalissimo,” “The Great Sun of Life,” and “The Eternal Leader.” So, why not change the dating system to start with the arrival of the messiah on the planet? It's been done elsewhere.
The mythology surrounding Kim Il-Sung is that he was a god-like figure who came from Heaven to guide the mortals on Earth. Kim Il-Sung developed a brand of communism he called “Juche,” and his son, Kim Jong-il, turned the ideology into more of a religion, with his father as the godhead.
In 1997, Kim Jong-il, probably working on the principal that it's not much of a deity that doesn't have his own calendar, introduced the Juche calendar, which has no dates prior to April 15, 1912.
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The Tranquility Calendar
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” These famous words spoken by American astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 marked the first arrival of humans on the Moon. Writer Jeff Siggins proposed this to be year one of the Tranquility Calendar. Moon Landing Day marked the dividing point between Before Tranquility (BT) and After Tranquility (AT).
In July 1989, Siggins listed the inconveniences of the Gregorian Calendar in Omni Magazine: “Are you tired of that same old calendar, with 12 months of unequal length, and dates that always fall on different days? Do you forget lunch dates, closing days for real estate deals, or deadlines for IRA rollovers? When plotting graphs in your fruit fly experiment, do you ever get confused? Do you wonder why that same vile mood hits on the fifth of one month and the fifteenth of the next?”
The solution he proposed was a calendar with 13 months of 28 days each, with one day, July 20, called “Armstrong Day” added to bring the total up to 365 days. A leap day would be added every four years and named “Aldrin Day” in honour of Buzz Aldrin the second astronaut to step on the Moon.
The Tranquility Calendar is similar to several other inventions such as the Positivist Calendar of 1849 and the International Fixed Day Calendar of 1894. There are small pockets of fans of the 13-month calendar to be found on the internet, just as there are folk who believe the Moon landings were faked and that vaccinations are some sort of evil plot.
The Martian Calendar
Mars takes longer to orbit the Sun than Earth, which means a year lasts 668.59 days. And, Martian days are 24 hours and 39 minutes in length. So, the Red Planet can't operate on our Gregorian calendar, because it will always be out of sync with the earthlings and nobody would know when to open and close the pubs.
Thinking well ahead, several scientists have devised calendars for use if, and when, humans set up a colony there. The Darian Calendar is an effort to help future settlers and it was devised by Thomas Gangale in 1985; he named it after his son Darius.
Gangale notes that “It will not seem at all odd to the Martians that ten-year-olds have the vote, or that the retirement age is 35. This difference between years on Earth and Mars will require a new calendar to mark the progress of the Martian year.”
What is year one on Mars? Astronomer Bruce Mills has an answer for that—March 11, 1609 CE. He picked this date as the time when Galileo began observing the planet through a telescope.
But, why not set year one as July 15, 1965, which is the date of the first successful fly-by of Mars by Mariner 4? Or, July 20, 1976 when Viking 1 became the first spaceship from Earth to successfully land on Mars. Maybe we should wait until the first human footprint is planted on the Martian soil.
The Soviet Eternal Calendar
The week of seven days has its foundation in Christianity; from Exodus we learn that “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day . . .” The Communist rulers of the Soviet Union attempted to eliminate religion, so getting rid of the seven-day week had an ideological underpinning. There was also an impetus to create industrial efficiency.
In 1929, the five-day week was introduced in the Soviet Union. People worked four days and then had one day off, but the rest days were staggered so that factories could be kept running continuously. As Jennifer Rosenberg notes (ThoughtCo) “Unfortunately, this did not increase productivity. In part because it ruined family life since many family members would have different days off from work.”
Another big problem cropped up; machinery that runs 24/7 with no time for maintenance often breaks down. By 1931, the Politburo recognized the calamitous results of its rather silly experiment and brought back the six-day work week with everybody, including the machinery, getting the same day of rest. However in 1940, in the glorious workers' paradise, the seven-day work week arrived, with nobody getting any days off.
Sort of like the labour schedule of a writer.
Soviet Lads and Lasses Have such Fun Bringing in the |Harvest.
- The Ancient Egyptians were the first to establish a year in relation to the Sun. By 4241 BCE, they had created a calendar that had 12 months of 30 days each. An additional five days were added at the end of each year to catch up to the solar cycle. This was quite an achievement for a civilization that did not know that the Earth orbited the Sun.
- For 1,600 years, the world used the Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar. But, a miscalculation meant that it slipped out of step with the solar cycle. Pope Gregory XIII corrected the mistake in 1582 and the Gregorian calendar has been the standard ever since, although some nations were slow to adopt it. It was not taken up by England and its American colonies until 1752, by Egypt in 1875, and by China in 1912.
- Saparmurat Niyazov became the dictator of Turkmenistan out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union. He embarked on a reign of terror and renamed the months of the year after family members and people he considered heroes. After his death in 2006, the country reverted to regular names for months.
The Lyricist Must Have Struggled for a Long Time to Get the Words Just Right
- “Dionysius Exiguus.” James A. Veitch, The Fourth R, September-December 1999.
- “Understanding the Juche Calendar.” Gareth Johnson, Young Pioneer Tours, 2019.
- “The Darian System.” Thomas Gangale, ops-alaska.com, undated.
- “The Tranquility Calendar.” Jeff Siggins, Omni Magazine, July 1989.
- “Soviets Change the Calendar.” Jennifer Rosenberg, ThoughtCo, October 28, 2019.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 31, 2021:
I like the idea of six hour days for the same pay. Some companies here in the State are working four day weeks, but they're ten hour days.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on August 31, 2021:
Lots of countries - Spain, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden - are doing trials on a four-day work week. Some are experimenting with six-hour days for the same pay. But, of course, our corporate masters would have us believe these are just the pipe dreams of Communists.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 31, 2021:
Interesting article, Rupert. I've often wondered how our calendar was created and why there are 365 days in a year.
What I'd like to know is who is the sadist that decided we (in America, anyway) work five days and only get two off? How lopsided is that?????