Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/588

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582
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

REFORMING THE CALENDAR
By OBERLIN SMITH

"YES, tempus fugit," remarked a philosophical gentleman of African descent, as I sat in his barber's chair remarking that my time was limited, "but," he went on to say, "we should not speak of time flying, for we fly through time." This seems logical, and new, but in whatever way we regard time we must certainly measure it; and we now measure it rather foolishly—not so foolishly, however, as by many systems in the past. Reformers of all ages have struggled with the question of how to divide three-hundred-and-sixty-five-and-about-a quarter into any convenient groups of units. A division into months was doubtless suggested by the motions of the moon, but the twenty-nine-and-a-fraction days forming her cycle were not commensurate with the earth's yearly cycle and nothing but confusion could arise from trying to use a lunar month for practical purposes. Certain attempts in ancient days led to such inconvenient time-keeping as was shown in the old Jewish year, which varied from 353 to 385 days, the months approximating a lunar cycle and an extra one being inserted sometimes each second, and sometimes each third, year.

The ancient Egyptians used twelve 30-day months and five odd days over, with no leap-year. This brought about the pleasing result of having the calendar year begin at all possible times in the astronomical year. Thus a complete cycle, to bring summer back again so that it would occur in summer, was about 1,461 years in duration. As nobody waited to see the end of it, not many people were greatly inconvenienced. When the Julian year was established in 46 B.C. with 365 days, and an added day each four years, the seasons stayed where they belonged much better, but they naturally had gotten somewhat awry by 1582 A.D., when the present Gregorian year was established. It would seem that if Cæsar and Pope Gregory XIII. (and also the Persians, in the early middle ages) thought the calendar of enough importance to be reformed by radical changes, we, in this day of rapid reforms, should be willing to make the slight changes necessary to get rid of the illogical and troublesome system now in use.

Among the annoying inconveniences of our present calendar are the changing of the dates in each year at which the respective seasons, months and weeks begin, causing various holidays and other special days to be movable as regards the day of the week and often to be postponed to a new date, upon the day following, when they happen to