What’s on Your Calendar?

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Depending on the year, Easter could be in March or April.

(True or False?)

Depending on the year, New Year’s Day could be in January or March. (True or False?)

Both of the statements to the left are true. The first one is easy to guess because Easter 2007 came on April 8, and Easter 2008 is on March 23.

The second statement is trickier because Jan. 1 was considered New Year’s Day for more than 1,000 years, but then appeared on the calendar as March 25! Was it an excuse to party twice?

What’s up with this calendar confusion? Long ago people looked into the sky to find answers. A peek into calendar history reveals some interesting facts.      

Easter Time

Jesus’ resurrection occurred on the Sunday after the Jewish celebration of Passover. In the years following,

Christians celebrated Easter during the Jewish Passover. That meant the day of the week for Easter could change from year to year.

By the middle of the second century, believers wanted Easter to stay on the Sunday after Passover. The Jewish calendar was based on the moon, so soon astronomers became involved in choosing the date for Easter. It grew quite complicated.

Out of Whack

Julius Caesar, a famous Roman emperor, established a calendar about 40 years before the birth

of Jesus. On his calendar, which he called the Julian

(jool-ee-un) Calendar, the New Year began Jan. 1.

His calendar worked well for a long time, but by 1582 it was out of whack. For example, the calendar could say mid-March, but according to the position of the sun, it was April.

Fun Facts

People living in remote parts of some countries may not have access to a new calendar for many years. But they use old calendars with pictures to decorate plain walls or even mud walls. Look for an opportunity to send a new calendar to Africa, Bangladesh, or another place where it would be welcomed.

A student during the Middle Ages in Italy worked for hours practicing math on his wax tablet. The primary reason for studying math was to determine the date of Easter. (When’s the last time your math teacher asked you to do that?)

The earliest calendars had no numbers, just pictures. They showed spring months for planting; summer for gardens, fields, and beekeeping; autumn for harvesting; and winter for wood chopping and pig killing. February and March, however, landed in-between things. One early calendar shows a swan for February and in March a snake swallowing the swan. The reason is not clear. (Not many snakes swallow swans in March today.)

Wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day isn’t to save you from getting pinched. As a young priest in Ireland, St. Patrick noticed the green three-leaf clover. He used it to teach about the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. March 17 is the day to wear green and remember St. Patrick teaching people about Jesus.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . .

The days of the week make up the seven columns on a calendar, but how did we get the names for each day?

Long ago, when people looked at the sky, they could identify the sun, moon, and five planets. They believed these ruled time. Because of that, the names ancient Romans gave the planets influenced names for days of the week. The similarities show up in the Latin names for the days of the week. In the English language, which days have names resembling the sun, moon, or a planet? (See chart.)

A Fix?

Pope Gregory VIII, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church from 1572-1585, decided to fix the calendar. He named his new calendar the Gregorian (greg-or-ee-un) Calendar.

(Yes, he named it after himself, just like Julius Caesar did.)

The pope dropped 10 days from the month of October and introduced Leap Year. That fixed the problem of matching the sun to the calendar months. But Pope Gregory also wanted his official calendar to match the church’s calendar.

March 25 in the Catholic Church was called Lady Day. It was the day the church said Mary became pregnant with Jesus, because it was nine months before Christmas Day. (Babies take nine months to grow in the womb.) The church also celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25th because it marked the beginning of the first “Year of Our Lord.”

So Pope Gregory wanted March 25 to be the official New Year’s Day. That was fine for many countries. But some countries, such as England, didn’t think Pope Gregory had the authority to make that change. And because the original New Year’s Day was also a Roman holiday, many people continued to party on Jan. 1. Even so, most people didn’t start using the number of the New Year until March 25.

For example, at the end of 1607, people celebrated New Year’s Day Jan. 1, but they didn’t consider it 1608 until March 25. Were people confused for three months about what year it was?

By 1752, England and her colonies—that’d be us—accepted the Gregorian Calendar. But they kept the New Year’s date of the Julian Calendar.

About the Author

Carol Reinsma is an author and editor for the Walk With Me church school curriculum published by Faith Alive Christian Resources. She attends Cragmor Christian Reformed Church, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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