Perspectives: We All Still Buy Dates for Christmas

The Birmingham Post (England), January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Perspectives: We All Still Buy Dates for Christmas


Byline: Chris Upton

The time has come to look for that calendar you bought last July, showing scenes of the Venetian carnival or old masters in the Louvre, and to hang it up.

Otherwise you will be forced to use the one you had for Christmas from Aunt Vicky, showing Yorkshire's picturesque country lanes or mischievous puppies in a variety of baskets.

Why do we have calendars? We have calendars because New Year falls on a different day every year, Easter has a mind of its own and we all need something to send as presents to people we don't know very well. If there were no calendars Chinese laundries would have no way of showing their gratitude to loyal customers, W H Smiths would be half empty and Penthouse would be reduced to selling magazines.

And yet, over the last century and more, we have come close to not needing them any more. For 150 years calendar reform has gripped and distracted many of the greatest minds and most powerful organisations and if their ideas have come to exactly nothing, it's not for want of lobbying.

The trouble with the one on your wall is that it's very messy. Not only does Christmas fall on a Wednesday, then a Thursday, and then probably a Saturday, but the days in each month are extremely slovenly and unpredictable. The first month has 31, the next has 28 or 27, followed by another 31 and a 30. Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory might be able to keep track of this, but the rest of us need a handy rhyme and a wall chart. Auguste Comte was probably the first man of the modern era to come up with something more regular and predictable. Comte's 'positivist calendar' of 1849 divided the year into 13 months, each with 28 days, and each month was named, not after an ancient god or a Roman emperor, but after individuals who had made a positive contribution to human history. So January was dedicated to Homer and October to Shakespeare. To make up the numbers Comte added an extra day at the end of the year, which would not have a day of the week assigned to it. …

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