Happy New Year, Julian

Today is "Old New Year" or "Orthodox New Year." Roast pork is a traditional meal to celebrate. Image: antique Orthodox New Year card.

Today is “Old New Year” or “Orthodox New Year.” Roast pork is part of a traditional meal to celebrate. Image: antique New Year card.

As an inveterate numbers guy, I watch web traffic to NCPR pretty closely. There is almost always something odd to note, such as a burst of traffic last week to this story in our archives by Nora Flaherty about “Old Christmas” as observed by some North Country Amish, on January 6.

Christmas famously comes “but once a year,” but apparently there is still some disagreement about when that is. While the atomic clock in the Naval Observatory in Washington can tell us what picosecond this is, what the day of the year might be is kind of arbitrary. It all started with a couple guys in Rome, Julius Caesar, and over 1600 years later, Pope Gregory.

Most of the world uses Gregory’s calendar, first adopted in 1582, but some countries and some faith groups stick with Julius, who laid down the law in 46 BC.

Berbers in North Africa and the civil calendar in Ethiopia still run on Julian time, as well as the Greek Orthodox center of Mount Athos. They reckon the current date 13 days earlier than the Gregorian calendar. Russia didn’t drop the Julian calendar until Lenin said so in 1918, and the British Empire and its colonial possessions didn’t make the switch until 1752.

Which means that George Washington was born on February 11, 1732, but we celebrate his birthday on February 22 (Julius and Gregory were only 11 days out of synch back then). It’s very confusing. Many documents in the transition time between the calendars used both dates, the thinking being, for some reason, that this would somehow reduce the confusion.

So if you are sleeping in this morning, or are more confused than usual, maybe you were up late last night, celebrating the coming of the “Old New Year.”


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