Sunday, January 4, 2015

Time is an Enigma by Katherine Pym

Wondering what the date is
We’ve just passed into a new year. By the Gregorian calendar, it is January 4, 2015. We are firm in this belief, and are happy with the algorithms that caused this. We trust the calendar. It is one of our rocks that anchor us to this world. 

But what if it weren’t always like this? How would people handle a moving, mushy calendar? I’d be nervous, and always wonder what the day was. I’d be afraid to travel, thinking wherever I went, the date wouldn’t match the place I left.

This was the case in England prior to 1752. Back then, they followed the Julian calendar when almost everyone else followed the Gregorian calendar. This differential caused problems within the government, amongst the merchants, or anyone who communicated with those abroad.

EXAMPLE: If you woke up in England January 1st 1700, according to the Julian calendar, the date would really be December 21st, 1699, since the Julian was a slug-a-bug, and trailed the Gregorian by approximately 11 days (all depends on who is counting). The dates would follow this lead until March 25, which was the New Year in the Julian calendar.

What if your country was at war with England and a treaty ensued? Would you lay down your arms on January 1st or December 21st? That’s rather a large gap of days. I can imagine war weary soldiers staring across the fox hole at each other, wondering what to do.   

Confused? Oh my, I do see exasperation in your eyes.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE: If you were born to English parents in France (Gregorian) on July 8, 1660, but returning to England, your birth date would actually be June 28 or 29, 1660 (Julian), again, depending on who is counting. 

If I were that child, I'd wander through life in a daze.

In September 1752, England finally succumbed to adopt the Gregorian calendar, but people fussed because they would lose days. How many, even the experts aren't certain. It ranges from 10-12 days.

One source I found gives the count of eleven days (or is it twelve?). The other day, I ran across a little booklet titled: Murders Myths and Monuments of North Staffordshire, by W.M. Jamieson. This booklet is a compilation of stories based in this lovely English shire. He entitled a short piece: 'Give us back our eleven days'.

This is what a good Staffordshire fellow did about the switch from Julian to Gregorian:

"William Willett was born in the early seventeen hundreds and lived in Endon where, according to local mythology he was something of a character... always fond of a gag or wager.  

"During the year 1752, ...the Government ordered that the days September 3rd to September 13th would not exist and people going to bed on the evening of the 2nd would wake up on the morning of the 14th.    

"...this appeared to be a government trick to rob the people of eleven days of their life and there were demonstrations outside Parliament demanding that the people were given back their eleven days.

"William Willet of Endon saw the possibility of a great joke and a profitable one, and also a chance to leave his indelible mark on Endon's history. He wagered that he would dance nonstop for twelve days and twelve nights and eagerly took bets from many of the villagers. 

"On the evening of September 2nd, 1752, William Willett started to jig around the village of Endon. Next morning, September 14th, he stopped dancing and started to claim his bets."

Good William Willet was pretty clever. Hopefully, the fair people of the village didn’t think too badly of his trick, and he made lots of money.

BUT I'm still confused on the missing days. Based on this story, England lost eleven days, when it seems to everyone, including W.M. Jamieson that William Willet danced for twelve days. 

Hmm, perhaps, this is a riddle better left unresolved.