Happy 4th of July: Our Calendar

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Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

I want to wish everyone in the U.S.A a very Happy Independence Day, and a belated Canada Day (July 1) to our Neighbors to the North! We have many blessings to be thankful for, as we discussed in an earlier post about the wave of Independence sparked by the American Revolution.

I am sorry I have been away for awhile. I have been in Miami MC’ing a trilingual Rosicrucian Convention in English, French, Spanish, and even a smattering of Dutch! That was a mental workout! Many thanks to all those who organized and participated!

There is little more to say on the subject of Independence that has not already been said in previous posts. I only want to congratulate the Rosicrucian Order and the Freemasons on their most significant gift to the world: the United States and Western Democracy! May we always renew it in every generation!

For our discussion this week, I thought we could look at the names of our months in English (and some other languages). It is a wonderful way to connect us with our ancient past.

The names for our months in English (and in French, Spanish and many Indo-European languages), come from Ancient Rome. In the beginning, the legendary Calendar of Romulus had these months:

Calendar of Romulus:

  • Martius (31 days) = Month of Mars (the month of the Spring Equinox)
  • Aprilis (30 days) = Month of Opening (Spring)
  • Maius (31 days) = Month of Maia/Bona Dea, the Goddess of Fertility, or of “the Elders” as Ovid states
  • Iunius (30 days): = Month of Juno, or of the young (Ovid)
  • Quintilis (31 days) = Fifth Month
  • Sextilis (30 days) = Sixth Month
  • September (30 days) = Seventh Month
  • October (31 days) = Eighth Month
  • November (30 days) = Ninth Month
  • December (30 days) = Tenth Month

This may have been based on an older Lunar Calendar. The problem is that these months (304 days) do not add up to a solar year of 365.25 (approx.) days. Therefore, the calendar would roll out of date on a regular basis (as the Jewish and Muslim calendars still do today).

To correct this, additional Winter days were added, of no month, to complete the cycle.

We will discuss the Roman calculation of days in another article. In summary, they counted down to three points in the calendar: the Kalends (1st Day), the Nones (9th Day) and the Ides (the 13th or 15th Day of the Month depending on the month. Therefore March 30 was “1 day before the Kalends of April.” This is reminiscent of the Roman numbers Duodeviginti (two down from Twenty = 18, and Undevigenti = one down from Twenty = 19). It also represents the subtractive principle used in later Roman numerals. Originally, 4 was IIII, later it became IV, which we use today. This is a great example of how spoken usage creates written forms.

There is conflicting evidence about what happened next. Numa, the legendary second King (Rex) of Rome is said to have redesigned the calendar, but the testimony varies:

Calendar of Numa (from Wikipedia)

Civil calendar Religious calendar
according toMacrobius[3]

and Plutarch[5]

according to Ovid[6](modern order due to

Decemviri, 450 BC)

according to Fowler[7]
Ianuarius (29) Ianuarius Martius
Februarius (28) Martius Aprilis
Martius (31) Aprilis Maius
Aprilis (29) Maius Iunius
Maius (31) Iunius Quintilis
Iunius (29) Quintilis Sextilis
Quintilis (31) Sextilis September
Sextilis (29) September October
September (29) October November
October (31) November December
November (29) December Ianuarius
December (29) Februarius Februarius

Ianuarius is dedicated to the God Janus, the God of entrances and exits, the God of future and past. Februarius is “purification,” a festival held on the full moon on the 15th.

Much later, as this calendar was not satisfactory, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 45 BCE:

Table of months (Wikipedia) 45 BCE:

Months (Roman) Lengths before 45 BCE Lengths as of 45 BCE Months (English)
Ianuarius[ 29 31 January
Februarius 28 (leap years: 23 or 24) 28 (leap years: 29) February
Mercedonius/Intercalaris 0 (leap years: 27) (abolished)
Martius 31 31 March
Aprilis 29 30 April
Maius 31 31 May
Iunius 29 30 June
Quintilis (Later: Iulius) 31 31 July
Sextilis (Later: Augustus) 29 31 August
September 29 30 September
October 31 31 October
November 29 30 November
December 29 31 December

To implement this reform, and to realign the calendar to properly match the seasons, Julius Caesar made 46 BCE 445 days long, the last of a series of irregular years. Naturally, the Romans did not call their year 46 BCE. This form of numbering did not come into effect until the calculations of the monk, (St.) Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Short) in the 6th Century CE. The Romans would have called the year 706 AUC (ab urbe condita: from the (legendary) founding of The City, i.e., Rome, in 753 BCE). Another popular way of dating was using the names of the sitting Consuls, and later, the regnal year of the Emperor.

In 44 BCE, the Senate renamed Quintilis in honor of Julius Caesar, as it was his birth month, and in 8 BCE renamed Sextilis for Augustus, since many of his victories, particularly against Marc Antony and Cleopatra, took place in August.

This Julian calendar with its leap years worked for the 365.25 day cycle, but the problem is that the path of Earth around the Sun is actually 365.256363 days. This results in an incremental difference of the Julian Calendar with the Solstices and Equinoxes. Ancient scholars knew of this problem, but apparently did nothing to correct it. By 1582, the Julian Calendar had moved 10 days out of alignment with the heavens.

To correct this, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a revision that year, known as the Gregorian Calendar, that realigned the calendar with the solar cycle. This was adopted by most Roman Catholic countries immediately, and about 200 years later by most Protestant countries. In the American Colonies, September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752. Eastern Christian countries generally adopted the Gregorian Calendar between 1918-1924 for the civil calendar. Many Eastern Churches retained the Julian calendar for ecclesiastical use (and some still do so today). These are sometimes referred to as “Old Calendar Churches.” This explains why some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. January 7 (Gregorian) is December 25 on the Julian Calendar. The date of Pascha (Easter) and all of the feasts dependent on Pascha are still calculated on the Julian Calendar for Eastern Orthodox Christians, and some Byzantine Catholics.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches came up with a new compromise in 1923, a revision to the Julian Calendar (the Revised Julian Calendar) which puts it in alignment with the Gregorian until the year 2800, when it will begin diverging at times by a day or two.

Today, with the introduction of atomic clocks and the standard of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the successor to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), we insert a leap second when needed to keep the day properly aligned with the sun’s position in the sky. The latest such adjustment was just a few days ago, on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. Who noticed?

So enjoy the fireworks and the barbecue, and celebrate our freedoms!

— Steven Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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