30 Days Have September
As we greet the New Year with optimism, hope, and resolutions we have already trashed, we can’t help but wonder what the number 2006 represents. So today we examine the history of our modern calendar—where it came from, how it works, and how it evolved into a fine-tuned delivery system of supermodels in bikinis.
The Roman Calendar was one of the earliest systems for tracking the days of the year—as well as birthdays, holidays, and the anniversary of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Beginning on March 1, the ten-month Roman year featured 304 days, the little glitch being the omission of winter, along with the January White Sales.
In 45 BC, the Roman Calendar was revised by emperor Julius Caesar, the man who invented July. As you recall, Caesar was already famous for his leading role in a Shakespeare production and for garnishing his romaine salads with anchovies. His new and improved Julian Calendar began with January 1, featuring 365¼ days divided into 12 months. The little glitch being that the length of each month ranged from 28–31 days, which is why NASA engineers today still recite, “30 days have September.” Also, Caesar never figured out how to get his subjects to work a full 18-hour shift in one-quarter of a day.
In addition, the Church frowned on the wild celebrations that took place on December 31, possibly because they weren’t invited. So they confused the citizens into forgetting to party by randomly reassigning New Years Day to other months such as August, which didn’t even get added to the calendar until the next paragraph. This plan backfired, as the clergy only confused themselves into reverting back to January 1, or as the Romans would say, 1 January. And considering the hangover census on January 1, 2006, it’s time they considered a Plan B.
To account for the ¼ day glitch, the Julian Calendar mandated “leaping” over an extra day every four years. But due to a counting error, Leap Year was declared every third year—falling, as you well recall, on 42 BC, 39 BC, 36 BC, etc.—the least of concerns for a civilization that was counting their years backwards.
When Caesar’s reign was canceled due to his assassination, the leap surplus fell to the next administration. In a stroke of PR genius, Emperor Augustus decreed that Rome lay off the leaping until the surplus was used up—and VOILA! The emperor was commemorated in the eighth month of AUGUST, but more importantly as The Guy Who Balanced the Leap Year Budget.
Later, a Naples physician named Lilius went to all the trouble of recalibrating the 365.25-day Julian year into 365.2425 days to facilitate the calculation of Easter. Pope Gregory XIII, wise in the ways of liturgy and fine chocolate bunnies, adopted the more precise Lilius Calendar in 1582—accidentally naming it the Gregorian calendar, which is still used today. The little glitch being that the Gregorian year shifts one day every 3300 years and who’s going to remember that?
For centuries, calendars have struggled to conform to astronomical cycles but the earth and moon refuse to hone their orbits into a neat, clean calendar experience. Today, we still have to add one day every four years to the sorry month of February that was still in the bathroom when the days of the year were divvied up. And don’t get me started on how the year 2000 launched the THIRD millennium—which really began in 2001. Which is why we have given up on Nature and all her scheduling glitches and turned to more stable points of reference like Presidents Day, which always falls on a Monday.
Copyright 2006 Patricia Draznin