Tuesday, January 06, 2009

History of our calendar

Before today’s Gregorian calendar was adopted, the older Julian Calendar was used. It was admirably close to the actual length of the year, as it turns out, but the Julian calendar was not so perfect that it didn’t slowly shift off track over the following centuries. But, hundreds of years later, monks were the only ones with any free time for scholarly pursuits – and they were discouraged from thinking about the matter of "secular time" for any reason beyond figuring out when to observe Easter. In the Middle Ages, the study of the measure of time was first viewed as prying too deeply into God’s own affairs – and later thought of as a lowly, mechanical study, unworthy of serious contemplation.

As a result, it wasn’t until 1582, by which time Caesar’s calendar had drifted a full 10 days off course, that Pope Gregory XIII (1502 - 1585) finally reformed the Julian calendar. Ironically, by the time the Catholic church buckled under the weight of the scientific reasoning that pointed out the error, it had lost much of its power to implement the fix. Protestant tract writers responded to Gregory’s calendar by calling him the "Roman Antichrist" and claiming that its real purpose was to keep true Christians from worshiping on the correct days. The "new" calendar, as we know it today, was not adopted uniformly across Europe until well into the 18th century.

What is the origin of the names of the months?

A lot of languages, including English, use month names based on Latin. Their meaning is listed below. However, some languages (Czech and Polish, for example) use quite different names.

JanuaryJanuariusNamed after the god Janus.
FebruaryFebruariusNamed after Februa, the purification festival.
MarchMartiusNamed after the god Mars.
AprilAprilisNamed either after the goddess Aphrodite or the Latin word aperire, to open.
MayMaiusProbably named after the goddess Maia.
JuneJuniusProbably named after the goddess Juno.
JulyJuliusNamed after Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. Prior to that time its name was Quintilis from the word quintus, fifth, because it was the 5th month in the old Roman calendar.
AugustAugustusNamed after emperor Augustus in 8 B.C.E. Prior to that time the name was Sextilis from the word sextus, sixth, because it was the 6th month in the old Roman calendar.
SeptemberSeptemberFrom the word septem, seven, because it was the 7th month in the old Roman calendar.
OctoberOctoberFrom the word octo, eight, because it was the 8th month in the old Roman calendar.
NovemberNovemberFrom the word novem, nine, because it was the 9th month in the old Roman calendar.
DecemberDecemberFrom the word decem, ten, because it was the 10th month in the old Roman calendar.

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