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Do We Need a New Calendar?

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November etc. We learn this little rhyme to help us remember the annoying habit our calendar has of assigned different numbers of days to various months. There are people who want to help by designing new, simpler calendars.

The Gregorian Calendar

Until 1582, the Western world lived with the Julian calendar, which was a bit wobbly on the length of a year; it miscalculated by 11 minutes annually. This added up to three additional days every four centuries. And, as the Julian calendar was established by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE, by the end of the 16th century, it was out of whack by a dozen days.

Pope Gregory XIII gets credit for the calendar that more accurately measures a year, but he didn’t do the sums. An Italian doctor named Luigi Lilio did the arithmetic that gave us the Western and Christian calendar we use today although he died before it was introduced. This gives us the months of different lengths and the extra day every four years to catch up with our orbit.

But, even this one is not completely accurate; it’s wrong by one day every 3,236 years.

When the Gregorian calendar took over from the Julian, 10 days had to be dropped to realign with the solar cycle.

Protestant countries were suspicious that the Gregorian calendar was some evil Roman Catholic plot to subvert their movement. Britain and its colonies did not change to the Gregorian calendar until September 1752.

The Positivist Calendar

It takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to complete one orbit of the sun, a period that does not readily lend itself to division into equal segments. So, the French philosopher August Comte kindly offered to sort this out in 1849. His creation is called the Positivist calendar.

Comte’s calendar has 13 months, each of 28 days. Those who are not as math-challenged as the writer will have quickly calculated that adds up to 364 days. Supporters of the Positivist calendar point out that Comte added days as “an annual festival commemorating the dead, and a leap-year festival dedicated to women.”

These additional days were blank in the sense they did not belong to any week or month.

This means that with the Positivist calendar each year starts on the same day of the week. Also, all months begin on Mondays. It is a perpetual calendar, which is bad news for calendar publishers because you don’t need a new one every year.

Comte added enormous confusion by renaming all the months and giving different names to each day, not just the seven, but all 364. The idea was to mark significant people from history, so instead of Wednesday you would have Magellan and Sunday might be Montgolfier.

Imagine the howls of outrage from special interests. Where’s the man who invented the self-inflating Whoopee Cushion? Why doesn’t my Aunt Agnes have a day, she knitted a replica of Stonehenge in Angora wool?

Not surprisingly, the Positivist calendar hasn’t caught on.

Astonishing Lyrics

The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar

Undaunted by the failure of the Positivist calendar to capture the public’s imagination, two professors from Johns-Hopkins University have devised their own perpetual calendar.

Steve Hanke and Richard Henry’s creation divides the year into 12 months. There are two months of 30 days, followed by one of 31, rinse and repeat over the next three quarters. This comes in at 364 days in a year, but there are no Leap Days. The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar (HHPC) throws in an extra week every five of six years to get back in sync with the with Earth’s journey around the sun.

Every year would start on the same day and there would be no need to rearrange schedules on an annual basis. Richard Henry points out that “Every institution in the world has to change their calendar. Sports schedules. Every company. The dates of holidays have to be reset. And, it’s all totally unnecessary.”

There are several variants of the HHPC system, but they all have to overcome the the reluctance to abandon the standard calendar that everybody is so used to. It would be like killing the QWERTY keyboard or forcing all nations to drive on the same side of the road.

Bonus Factoids

  • In 2002, Turkmenistan’s President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov changed the names of all the months and days of the week. In the central Asian nation, Aprel (April) became Gurbansolten, the name of the dictator’s mother, similarly Ýanwar (January) he renamed after himself. But, the president-for-life expired from a supposed heart attack four years later and the country returned to its traditional names.
  • Almost all countries using the Gregorian calendar say the week begins on Monday. Canada and the United States are exceptions, saying the week begins on Sunday.
  • For the Gregorian calendar we are in the year 2020. But, according to the Islamic calendar it is 1441-1442 and the Hebrew calendar says it’s 5780–5781. For Buddhists, the year is 2564, while the Byzantine calendar has it as 7528-7529.
  • To complicate matters further for accurate timekeepers, the Earth’s orbit around the sun is not exactly the same every year; it can vary by as much as 30 minutes.
  • In 2012, word got around that the Mayan calendar foretold the end of the world on December 21st of that year. But, the Mayans were wrong by four years; the world had to wait for the Apocalypse until 2016 when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
The Mayan calendar.

The Mayan calendar.

Sources

  • “The Gregorian Calendar.” Vigdis Hocken, timeandate.com, undated.
  • “The Positivist Calendar.” Positivists.org, undated.
  • “Proposed New Calendar Would Make Time Rational.” Brandon Keim, Wired, December 28, 2011.
  • “Tired of Leap Day? Wish Christmas Was always on a Monday? Get on Board with the Permanent Calendar. Scottie Andrew, CNN, February 29, 2020.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor