Friday 11 July 2014

Dating 101, by Laurie Graham

Writing about pre-Revolutionary Russia (as I’ve been doing recently) I’ve had to deal with calendar complications. I’m no stranger to them. For several years I belonged to an Orthodox parish under the direct rule of the Moscow Patriarchate, a church that adheres to the Julian Calendar. The USSR adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1918, by order of the Council of People’s Commissars, but the church clung and still clings to its old ways. If, like me, numbers make you feel dizzy, it can be very testing, but history is full of calendar anomalies. We just have to get our heads around them.

The problem with the Julian calendar is that its calculations are slightly inaccurate. Little by little it lags behind the solar year. It is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar which is why Russian children living in Ireland are expected to celebrate Christmas on January 7th, just as the new school term begins. But I digress. The Gregorian calendar, more accurate in its calculations, was instituted in 1582 and taken up very quickly by Catholic countries, then more gradually by Protestant states. For a while dates were written in both styles, with the Gregorian date above and the Julian date below. The United Kingdom and America didn’t make the switch until 1752. Turkey and Greece were among the last to hold out, not converting until 1920s.

So far, so good.  But there’s more. January 1st was not always marked as the beginning of a new year. Far from it. Before the Norman Conquest the winter solstice signalled the year’s end in England. The Normans introduced January 1st as the start of a new year but by the middle of the 12th century that fell from use too. Lady Day, which is March 25th and the Feast of the Annunciation, became New Year’s Day and so it remained until 1752. The calendar used to run as follows, March 24th 1666, March 25th 1667 etc.  But not, nota bene, in Scotland. In 1600 Scotland, still an independent kingdom, opted to make January 1st its New Year’s Day.

Still with me?   

In 1752 Parliament passed the Calendar Act. It was a nifty two-step change to convert the United Kingdom and her colonies to the Gregorian calendar once and for all.

Step 1: It was decreed that the year 1752 would end on December 31st instead of on the following March 25th, thereby lopping nearly three months off the year.

Step 2: A further eleven days were removed from the month of September to bring us into line with the Gregorian calendar. One day it was September 2nd, next day it was September 14th.

1752 was a very short year and as you may imagine, when the next Lady Day came round and rents and taxes were due people objected. They felt they were being robbed of time. Well in a sense they were. So the Exchequer said, ‘Okay, we’ll give you eleven days grace.’ And because there was an intervening Sunday, April 6th was fixed as the start of the new tax year. Which is where it has remained to this very day.

So now you know. Just call me Wrassles-with-Calendars



Carol Drinkwater said...

This is fascinating. Are you working with some of this info for a book? It could make me crazy. Thank you, Laurie.

Laurie said...

Just the Russian bit, Carol. My novel The Grand Duchess of Nowhere (out in October) involved getting my dates straight. I thought I'd share the joy!

Joan Lennon said...

Bravely done! Now go have a lie-down!

Ann Turnbull said...

I've always thought it very odd that the tax year begins on 6th April. Thank you for explaining this. What a strange year 1752 must have been!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

What an extremely useful and interesting post. I have bookmarked it for reference - thank you!

Barbara Bettis said...

Very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

Alison said...

Thank you for the information. I had assumed accountants picked the date of 6 April to be awkward and also to avoid the business of Christmas. I didn't realise it went back that far.
It is also useful because I am researching a Russian lady born 31 July 1831 / 12 August 1831. I am also hopeful to locate the liturgy of the of the 19th century Russian Orthodox marriage ceremony. I speak no Russian. Any help greatly appreciated. Alison.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Goodness, what a mess! I hadn't realised the calendar in England changed so late, let alone in Turkey and Greece! When you think about it, every time we celebrate a historical birthday on anniversary, we'd have to stop and say, "No, hang on, was it really five hundred years ago today or not?" Too messy! :-)

I did know about March 25th. Tolkien used it in Lord Of The Rings, very deliberately, because of the traditional religious connotations, as the date when Frodo climbs Mount Doom. (He leaves Rivendell on Christmas Day).
It just be quite a job researching this for your book and I dips me lid to you!

Laurie said...

Alison, the Russian Orthodox service of marriage in the 19th C was exactly the same as now. If you want it in full the book to consult is Isabel Hapgood's Orthodox Services. If you just want the vows contact me through my website.

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