Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/December 1912/Reforming the Calendar

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"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 occur on Sunday. Another nuisance is the inequality in the length of the months and the random fashion in which the various lengths occur—this irregularity even requiring the memorizing of pretty little poems, such as "Thirty days hath September, etc." Still another evil is the starting a new year about one-third way through a season instead of each beginning at the same time. Still another is the ten days discrepancy between the beginning of the calendar year and the solar year, there being no good reason why they should not start together—say at the winter solstice, instead of a little after, as at present.

There is hardly room herein to fully discuss the question historically or to analyze all that is now being done to effect a reform in our curious calendar. It may, however, be interesting to get an idea of a modern view of the case by compiling a résumé of a series of articles upon calendar reform, written by various students of the subject during the past year or so.

Referring to Science, Vol. XXXII., p. 154, a communication from Professor Reininghaus advocates changing the present Gregorian calendar by starting the year with six months of 28 days (four whole weeks each) followed by a half-month of two weeks, then by six more such months and another half-month. This completes 364 days of the year. To them is added a non-week day, followed in leap-years by another day.

On page 306, same volume, Dr. Slocum quotes Mr. Cotsworth, of England, as recommending thirteen 28-day months, putting the extra one in midsummer and calling it "Sol." He then puts in an extra day, calling it "Christmas," and each four years inserts a "Leap-day."

On page 513 Professor Patterson quotes Sr. Hesse, of Chili, as advocating thirteen 28-day months, plus one or two necessary non-week days, suggesting that the new month shall come in winter and be called "Trecember." Professor Patterson, however, prefers to have the new month in summer and suggests "Roma" for its name. He also advocates that we number the hours of the day from 1 to 24, instead of putting in duplicate groups of twelve each, as now.

On page 556 Mr. Dabney agrees with the 13-month advocates above mentioned. He refers to possible difficulties in arranging the legal holidays, which seem to depend somewhat upon politics and public enthusiasm. He thinks that outside of the four old-fashioned ones, they had better be made to occur on Sundays so there would not be too many of them to interfere with regular weekly occupations.

On page 628, Dr. Cohen fears differences of opinion among followers of the various great religions, should some calendar reform be made universal. He proposes that we do not name the days at all, but simply number them from one to seven in each week as do now certain of the religious denominations, and as did the ancient Hebrews.

On page 757 Professor Chamberlin advocates giving plenty of time to a careful study of a possible new calendar, but suggests that the best arrangement would probably be twelve months of four weeks each and four extra weeks, one placed at the end of each of the seasons. These intercollated weeks, as we might term them, would be used for closing up accounts in business and school-work, taking short vacations, etc. The 365th day he would make New Year's Day, with a leap-day added every four years. He proposes special names for the extra weeks, as, for instance, Christmas, Easter, Julian and Gregorian.

On page 917 Dr. Hopkins criticizes Professor Chamberlin's scheme and suggests instead, the adoption of eight 4-week months and four 5-week months, the latter to be 3d, 6th, 9th and 12th of the year. To avoid any greater space than seven between Sabbath days he advocates running all weeks consecutively and having every fifth year an extra so-called leap-week. This leap-week would be omitted each forty years, save the 10th and each 20,000 years except the 10th. This, he figures, would bring everything out all right in the long run, but he doesn't suggest how many of us will live to see that it goes through properly.

In volume XXXIIL, page 64, Professor Barton analyzes the Chamberlin and Reininghaus schemes and objects to starting winter as late as the first of January, and also to so-called quarter-years having an odd week appended as making it awkward for the future timing of contracts, etc., especially those which are based on monthly periods.

On page 688, the late lamented Professor Webb recommends, as a temporary matter, that the years from 1918 until 1924, inclusive, shall each consist of 52 weeks or 364 days, and that we then shall commence a system of having each fifth year a long one containing 53 weeks, or 371 days. Subsequent to the last date mentioned he would abolish the term "month" and have as units only weeks and days, numbering all the days of the year consecutively and knowing them by such numbers. The inaccuracies of thus counting consecutive weeks indefinitely onward would be corrected by omitting the long-year in year dates divisible by 50, except at different intervals about 400 years apart.

On page 690 Professor Kent regards favorably the usual four quarters and twelve months, but would, in common years, give February 30 days by robbing two of the present 31-day months, and would give February an extra day in leap-year.

On page 690 Mr. Clifford has referred to the movements for reforming the calendar in France, Holland, Switzerland, etc., which have been going on for more than twenty-five years past without exciting much attention in this country. The general consensus of opinion abroad seems to favor the simple scheme of four quarter-years each with two 30-day, and one 31-day months, with a non-week day at the end of common years, and two of them in leap-years, the second one to be at the end of the second quarter. The year 1917 is recommended for making the change as allowing plenty of time for discussion and decision throughout the world, and as fitting in properly to start with the first day of the year coincident with the first day of the week.

On page 803 is a quotation from an article in Nature, by H. C. P., which relates that certain propositions for calendar reform have been unsuccessfully introduced in the English Parliament. One of these called for the simple arrangement above described by Mr. Clifford and others, while the second one calls for seasons of 28-, 28-and 35-day months. The author points out the absurdity of the second scheme, with its perplexities in arranging for monthly salaries of servants, etc.; and discourages any movement of the sort as unnecessary, and as interfering with the present continued succession of the 7-day weeks, fearing that any change could not be accepted on religious and sentimental grounds. The whole tone of his communication is perhaps a little too pessimistic to make it worthy of a serious place in an article upon reform.

On page 283 of the March, 1912, number of this magazine, Dr. Super, in an article upon "Time and Space," recommends the same simple and scientific arrangement of four 91-day seasons, etc., recommended by Clifford and others.

Referring in general to the schemes of the various authors above quoted, we certainly should not consider any of the 13-month projects, simply because thirteen is not divisible by four, the number of seasons that we have assumed desirable. Months of 28 days would be still more awkward, if some of them were rated as half-months, as suggested in one of the essays. The suggestion of four 12-week seasons, each followed by a holiday-week, would seem to be rather confusing as it would mix two different sorts of units, seasons and weeks.

The scheme for a temporary change for the next thirteen years, and then another change, making every fifth year a week longer than the others, would also be very inconvenient. We should try to make the years all as uniform with each other as possible, only varying them the one day at certain intervals as seems to be forced upon us by nature. Obviously, commercial values such as interest, rents, salaries, etc., based upon a 52-week year would not be suitable for a 53-week year. Another suggestion that we merely lengthen February and shorten some of the other months in an arbitrary and irregular way does not seem worth considering, as little real improvement would be effected.

The Dalziel Bill, which has been presented in the British Parliament having months with 28, 28 and 35 days for each season, seems utterly impracticable, especially in the matter of calculating monthly wages, rents, etc. The Pearce Bill, however, presented earlier in Parliament, with four 91-day seasons and an extra non-week day, etc., seems to be almost ideal, and agrees, in its main features, with the proposals that have been made by various scientists in Europe for several years past, commencing perhaps with M. Flammarion and referred to later as the "Grosclaude Project," with headquarters at Geneva. It seems to have been considered favorably also by some of the Esperanto congresses.

Such simple schemes embody the only logical method of handling the subject, as the primal conditions of any calendar reform that we may hope to succeed in adopting throughout the civilized world are, first, simplicity, and, second, the least possible change from our present system. It probably will be generally conceded that if we make a change we had better retain the present division of the year into four seasons, into twelve months, and into weeks of seven days each. Of these the natural and unalterable units are the year and day. The difficulty throughout the ages has been to make one of these commensurate with the other when nature has kindly made their ratio about 365.2422.

After completing these four seasons, by whichever of the exact arrangement of months that may be considered best, we have, in any of the cases, 364 days. The remaining non-week day in common years simply fills a little gap and may be called by any appropriate name. It doubtless should be a holiday, but preferably belonging to the old year. In leap year the extra day should be put in the middle of the year, thus making each half-year alike, it being considered the final day of the first half and being a holiday. It perhaps might be called "leap day" or, preferably, something more euphonious.

A primal advantage of this general scheme is that the beginning of each year and any certain day of any year, counting numerically from the beginning, always happens the same day of the week and, furthermore, that each season always begins and ends with the same day of the week, because the 91 days are divisible by 7.

In any of these good schemes, where we keep years almost the same length, varying by only one day in leap year, we meet with the academic objection that the weeks do not run forever in an unbroken line of seven days each. This, of course, would make no trouble in social or commercial life, but it might be contrary to the religious scruples of some people as occasionally giving them an 8-day interval between two sabbaths, instead of always seven days. This could be gotten over, however, if necessary, by calling the additional day a sabbath and thus having two together once a year, and in leap year twice a year. A better plan would perhaps be to let the extra day of the year be Christmas, thus allowing only the holiest of all days to crowd certain two sabbaths a little apart. To those people who believe in the great importance of an exact sequence of 7-day weeks, which they suppose to have been maintained since the christian era, and which must always be maintained, it may be suggested that if they ever are traveling westward their weeks are perforce lengthened to more than the standard 168 hours. Should they happen to go all the way around the world they make their weeks so long as to be obliged to throw out a whole day into the Pacific Ocean, thus giving them one 6-day week. If, on the other hand, they travel eastward, their weeks are shortened, and by the time they get home they must have endured one 8-day week. This being the case, how can they logically object to a calendar reform which would only have the same effect upon them, at certain long intervals, as would an extended eastward journey.

Whatever reform is made, one point especially should be insisted upon (one that the calendar reformers seem to have neglected) and that is to start the new year about the twenty-first of December instead of ten days later, as we now do. Thus the calendar year and the solar year would have a definite relation to each other—as they properly and logically should have. Here again an objection might be offered that when the change was made some certain two sabbaths would come too near together, or too far apart, but as this would only happen once for all (it is to be hoped for many thousand years) the difficulty would not be a serious one. Even this could be avoided, however, simply by choosing a suitable year for the grand change.

To those persons who object to the first season (winter) beginning 21 days later than it does now, it may be pointed out that we of the north temperate zone are apt to have many more cold and disagreeable days in March than we do in November and that the early part of September is but a continuation of summer. The occasional frosts which we have in June that so often "spoil the peach crop" (for the time being!) may perhaps also give a hint that summer might just as well commence a little later than it now does. To the thought that we should logically place the middle of the cold season at the solstice, when the earth receives the least sunshine, it may be replied that there is a lag in meteorological phenomena which is the interval between certain causes and the effects which follow. The retardation is due to a variety of physical actions, as the retention of heat in the earth, water and air, and so forth. The length of this lag is uncertain and irregular, but probably a half-season is a near enough period to allow. All of our weather is so variable that it is not feasible to attempt running it upon an exact time-table.

It should be understood that the word "season" is used herein synonymously with "quarter." The latter is of course frequently used in business matters as a division of a fiscal year. There is no reason, however, why the commercial quarter-year should not be identical with the climatological and sentimental unit.

Incidental to this calendar reform, but not necessarily a part of it, is the numbering of the hours of the day from 1 to 24 instead of by the present absurd method, involving two sets of twelve hours each, all marked with the necessary appendages, "morning," "afternoon," "evening," "A.M.," "P.M." and so forth. All this is just as sensible as it would be to name months enough for half a year only, and then to repeat them during the last half, with some cabalistic letters attached to distinguish them from the first set. It is surely more logical and definite to commence the day at midnight and number it straight through, as we would number any other series of parts belonging to a whole. If our clocks, watches and railway time-tables were numbered in this way, it would require but a few months for everybody to become entirely conversant with the new method. The writer has long carried his watch with the hours from 13 to 24 marked in red figures below the usual black ones. Any old time-piece can be so marked and the new scheme thus automatically becomes familiar.

The improved numeration has long been in use by the big Canadian railways and by various railways in Europe. It is also used by the general public in some places on the continent, but just to what extent I am not fully informed. Only to-day the news is cabled that the 24hour scheme has been adopted in France.

Some years ago this numeration was advocated and practised at its conventions by so scientific a body as the American Society of Civil Engineers. Thus, they habitually, upon their programs, etc., appointed afternoon meetings at 14 o'clock; dinners at 19.30 o'clock and dances at 21 o'clock, and so on. They have for a few years allowed the matter to drop, but it is to be hoped only temporarily.

In the diagram below I have tabulated the chief points of the Geneva scheme before referred to, except that I have used the German spelling "kalender" which I suggest for future use, to distinguish it from the old "calendar" previously used. It is better thus to place the 31-day months at the beginning of the season rather than at the end; firstly, because in such case there are two less of the old months to change the length of than is the case by the other plan; and, secondly, because with a 30-day month at the end of the season, the "leap day" following June and the "extra-day" following December can, if desired, be considered as part of the month preceding them, thus giving it thirty-one days. This need not affect the position of the weeks, but it might be convenient in some cases involving monthly stipends, as in paying for domestic service, etc. Thus, there never would be thirty-two days to consider as perhaps belonging to a month, which would be the case with the other arrangement.

An inspection of the table will show the fortunate circumstance that all of our present American holidays occur on week-days, with one exception. This is Lincoln's birthday, which com.es upon Sunday, February 12. It is perhaps better so, as another holiday, Washington's birthday, follows so soon, coming on Wednesday, February 22. Decoration Day occurs Thursday, May 30; Independence Day, Wednesday, July 4; Labor Day, Monday, September 4; Columbus Day, Thursday, October 12; Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23 or 30, as may be determined; and Christmas, Monday, December 25; Election Day need no longer be "the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November" but can be fixed simply on November 7. Such movable holidays as Easter and other ecclesiastical dates which are partly dependent upon the moon will, of course, not be fixed; but they will occur more uniformly than at present.

In England May Day will occur on Wednesday, May 1; and Michaelmas on Friday, September 29. In France, their glorious July 14 will always occur upon Saturday.

In the table, the extra day is named "Silvester," as suggested by the European reformers referred to. An alternative arrangement might be made, however, by calling it something else, or by using Christmas Day for this position in the calendar, instead of six days earlier. This need not offend any christian sentiment as this day is often moved now from Sunday to Monday; and there was originally considerable dispute as to where in the year it should be placed, no definite arrangement, I believe, having been made previous to the fifth century. My own preference, however, would be to leave Christmas where it is, and have the extra day as another holiday, replacing our present "new years."

Kalender for 1918, A.D., and ever after

Days in
Name of
Number of
Dates of Sundays Leap Year
Winter January 31 1 8 15 22 29 91
91 February 30 5 12 19 26 91
March 30 3 10 17 24
Spring April 31 1 8 15 22 29
91 May 30 5 12 19 26 91
June 30 3 10 17 24
Leap Day
Summer July 31 1 8 15 22 29
91 August 30 5 12 19 26 91
September 30 3 10 17 24
Autumn October 31 1 8 15 22 29
91 November 30 5 12 19 26 91
December 30 3 10 17 24
Silvester 1 1
Year 365 366
Each year, with its first season, first month, first week, first day and first hour to commence at midnight following the winter solstice—in the morning of what we now call December 22. Leap years to be the same as in the Gregorian calendar.

To establish the new calender it would, of course, be necessary to have uniform legislation agreed upon by all the principal civilized nations of the world. They would then simply issue an edict that at a specified future time, the first day of December was to be considered as the tenth and that when the following January 1 arrived the new scheme should commence and remain in force forevermore. Such a ten-day shortening of a month should not frighten any one when it is remembered that this identical proceeding was followed when the Gregorian calendar was established, the change as it happened then also requiring ten days.

When England changed from O.S. to N.S., 170 years afterward, a shortening of the year by eleven days occurred, and nobody seems to have been scared. Of course it could easily be arranged by law that notes and other financial promises and contracts would mature after an expiration of the given number of days of intended duration when they were dated. This little trouble would occur but once, and all things would run smoothly ever after, with a vast improvement in the convenience of reckoning dates and days of all kinds, including our personal birthdays.

The proposed civilization of the calendar might be decreed at any time, but as it will doubtless take years to make the change popular, it might be well to fix upon December, 1918, for a hoped-for performance of the operation. In that year, Saturday falls upon the day of the solstice, December 21. This, when the ten days shortening was made, would be the thirty-first by the new scheme and consequently would be "extra day," "Silvester," or whatever it might be called. The following day being Sunday, would give the start as the first of the new year by the new calendar. Thus, nobody could be prejudiced at the beginning by putting any two Sundays further apart, or nearer together, as would be the case in other years than 1912, 1918, 1924, etc.

In regard to the practical promotion of calendar reform, it would seem as if some of the large scientific bodies of this country should act together, and get into close affiliation with the interested people in Europe, who seem to be farther advanced in their ideas than we are. Thus an influence might be brought to bear upon the various civilized governments of the world which would some time result in victory. Should not an international kalender society be formed in the near future?