Rare Calendars

July 14, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Merriam-Webster defines calendar as “a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (such as weeks and months) in a definite order”. The reasons for developing such a system are easy to identify. It makes nearly all business navigable. Practicality aside, however, the idea of a calendar actually stemmed from those who noticed nature's rhythms. Early peoples noticed and came to expect that the sun would rise and set. Though time appears fixed as we move between scheduled appointments, it is easy to note that time moves slowly when we are in pain, and quickly when we are having fun. In nearly every possible scenario, humans note the passage of time.

“Kalend”, the Greek word for “I shout” predates the Roman “calends”, but both play a part in our understanding of time. The Greeks used to notify the public that taxes were due by shouting (thus the term kalend). Their taxes created an arbitrary, but fixed, timetable. Later, Romans used the word “calends” to describe the first day of a Roman month. These usages may have given us language for the development of the calendar itself, but they lack an understanding of celestial events. Most early calendars heavily relied upon nature as their guide. The Egyptians, for example, paid close attention to the cycles of floods. These periods paved the way to a successful civilization by allowing them to raise crops. In turn, the development of an accurate calendar was vital to the success of their crops. Though their calendar dates back 5,000 years, the ancient Egyptian astronomers created an extremely accurate calendar. Celestially-based calendars lack flexibility, however. And since early priests did not allow for change, after time, their calendar became disjointed from its intended purpose. Calendars, then, are a mix of celestial events, civic duties and cultural norms. The two calendars that follow may not be common knowledge, but they represent thought-projects regarding the human conception of time.

The French Revolutionary Calendar (or Republican Calendar) was established after France ended its brutal war in 1793. The new calendar sought to reject any ties to the previous monarchy or the Catholic Church. In other words, they completely abolished the Gregorian calendar. They removed religious holidays and completely changed the way that time was accounted for. This calendar was divided into 36 weeks, and each week included 10 days. They listed days numerically: Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, etc. The months focused on nature and natural events rather than gods or deities. The calendar year began on September 22, which was the date that the republic was established. The only holidays they celebrated came at the end of each calendar year during Sans Culottides. In these ceremonies, they honored Virtue, Genius, Labor, Opinion and Reward. This calendar did not last, however. Perhaps people did not appreciate the fact that the work week was extended from six days to nine. Whatever the reason, Napoleon abandoned this calendar on January 1, 1806 and returned to the Gregorian calendar. For more information, visit Calendars Through the Ages.

While the French Revolutionary Calendar arose as a response to war and devastation, the World Calendar came about mostly due to globalization. Its goal is to remove the complexity of change, thus fostering a more streamlined global world. They propose a simplified calendar of 364 days. The year is divided into four quarters which contain 3 months. Those three months all contain 91 days. They propose one calendar in which every date is fixed. For example, Christmas would always fall on a Monday. (One benefit of this calendar, is that you would only have to purchase one hard copy.) In order to compensate for the inadequacies, they propose World Day, a worldwide celebration the day after December 30. They also include a Leap Year Day once every four years. According to their website, the calendar would bring peace and stability to the ever-globalizing world. The World Calendar could even be memorized. As a result, supporters claim that it would enable smoother business transactions between highly diverse cultures. The major deficit of this calendar is its inability to account for religious holidays, cultural differences and minorities. It appears to be a very business-like solution to what is often a very culturally-laden term. In structuring the holidays, they may offend many religions or cultures who rely on lunar calendars and established holy rules. Flaws included, however, the theoretical process is interesting. For more, visit the website for the World Calendar.

Time is a social construct. We use it to convey information in our sentences (past, present and future, for example) and to make plans with colleagues, family and friends. Watches and clocks, systematic constructs, enable us to more accurately function. And yet, time has as much to do with pace or tempo as it does with logic and accuracy. For example, try to gain a concrete understanding of the passage of time from someone's oral history. It is nearly impossible. In memory, time functions fluidly, not logically or chronologically. A chain of events string together in the memory, but they may not be a factual representation of the events, just one person's view of them. Also, the important points seem to take longer, whereas the unimportant stuff is swept aside. Again, importance differs from person to person. Starting conversations and creating dialogue with the purpose of understanding someone's personal view of time is endlessly interesting...especially outside of your own country.

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