The Gregorian Calendar
The Gregorian calendar is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was first proposed by the Calabrian doctor Aloysius Lilius, and decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom it was named, on 24 February 1582 by the papal bull Inter gravissimas.
It is a reform of the Julian calendar. Gregory's bull does not order any particular year numbering system, but uses the Anno Domini system which counts years from the traditional Incarnation of Jesus, and which spread throughout Europe during the middle ages. That is the same year numbering system that is the de facto international standard today.
The Gregorian calendar modifies the Julian calendar's regular four-year cycle of leap years.
Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 is not a leap year; the year 2000 is a leap year.
The Gregorian solar calendar is an arithmetical calendar. It counts days as the basic unit of time, grouping them into years of 365 or 366 days; and repeats completely every 146,097 days, which fill 400 years, and which also happens to be 20,871 seven-day weeks. Of these 400 years, 303 (the "common years") have 365 days, and 97 (the leap years) have 366 days. This gives an average year length of exactly 365.2425 days, or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.
A Gregorian year is divided into twelve months of irregular length, that is, with no regular relationship among their lengths.
The motivation of the Catholic Church in adjusting the calendar was to celebrate Easter at the time it thought the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Although a canon of the council implies that all churches used the same Easter, they did not. The Church of Alexandria celebrated Easter on the Sunday after the 14th day of the moon (computed using the Metonic cycle) that falls on or after the vernal equinox, which they placed on 21 March. However, the Church of Rome still regarded 25 March as the equinox (until 342) and used a different cycle to compute the day of the moon. In the Alexandrian system, since the 14th day of the Easter moon could fall at earliest on 21 March its first day could fall no earlier than 8 March and no later than 5 April. This meant that Easter varied between 22 March and 25 April. In Rome, Easter was not allowed to fall later than 21 April, that being the day of the Parilia or birthday of Rome and a pagan festival. The first day of the Easter moon could fall no earlier than 5 March and no later than 2 April. Easter was the Sunday after the 15th day of this moon, whose 14th day was allowed to precede the equinox. Where the two systems produced different dates there was generally a compromise so that both churches were able to celebrate on the same day. By the tenth century all churches (except some on the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire) had adopted the Alexandrian Easter, which still placed the vernal equinox on 21 March, although Bede had already noted its drift in 725—it had drifted even further by the sixteenth century.
Worse, the reckoned Moon that was used to compute Easter was fixed to the Julian year by a 19 year cycle. However, that approximation built up an error of one day every 310 years, so by the sixteenth century the lunar calendar was out of phase with the real Moon by four days.
The Council of Trent approved a plan in 1563 for correcting the calendrical errors, requiring that the date of the vernal equinox be restored to that which it held at the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and that an alteration to the calendar be designed to prevent future drift. This would allow for a more consistent and accurate scheduling of the feast of Easter.
The fix was to come in two stages. First, it was necessary to approximate the correct length of a solar year. The value chosen was 365.2425 days in decimal notation. Although close to the mean tropical year of 365.24219 days, it is even closer to the vernal equinox year of 365.2424 days; this fact made the choice of approximation particularly appropriate as the purpose of creating the calendar was to ensure that the vernal equinox would be near a specific date (21 March). (See Accuracy).
The second stage was to devise a model based on the approximation which would provide an accurate yet simple, rule-based calendar. The formula designed by Aloysius Lilius was ultimately successful. It proposed a 10-day correction to revert the drift since Nicaea, and the imposition of a leap day in only 97 years in 400 rather than in 1 year in 4. To implement the model, it was provided that years divisible by 100 would be leap years only if they were divisible by 400 as well. So, in the last millennium, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. In this millennium, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 will not be leap years, but 2400 will be. This theory was expanded upon by Christopher Clavius in a closely argued, 800 page volume. He would later defend his and Lilius's work against detractors.
The 19-year cycle used for the lunar calendar was also to be corrected by one day every 300 or 400 years (8 times in 2500 years) along with corrections for the years (1700, 1800, 1900, 2100 et cetera) that are no longer leap years. In fact, a new method for computing the date of Easter was introduced.
In 1577 a Compendium was sent to expert mathematicians outside the reform commission for comments. Some of these experts, including Giambattista Benedetti and Giuseppe Moleto, believed Easter should be computed from the true motions of the sun and moon, rather than using a tabular method, but these recommendations were not adopted.
Gregory dropped 10 days to bring the calendar back into synchronization with the seasons. Lilius originally proposed that the 10-day correction should be implemented by deleting the Julian leap day on each of its ten occurrences during a period of 40 years, thereby providing for a gradual return of the equinox to 21 March. However, Clavius's opinion was that the correction should take place in one move and it was this advice which prevailed with Gregory. Accordingly, when the new calendar was put in use, the error accumulated in the 13 centuries since the Council of Nicaea was corrected by a deletion of ten days. The last day of the Julian calendar was Thursday, 4 October 1582 and this was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, Friday, 15 October 1582 (the cycle of weekdays was not affected).
William Hogarth painting (c. 1755) which is the main source for "Give us our Eleven Days"
Though Gregory's reform was enacted in the most solemn of forms available to the Church, in fact the bull had no authority beyond the Catholic Church and the Papal States. The changes which he was proposing were changes to the civil calendar over which he had no authority. The changes required adoption by the civil authorities in each country to have legal effect.
The Nicene Council of 325 sought to devise rules whereby all Christians would celebrate Easter on the same day. In fact it took a very long time before Christians achieved that objective (see Easter for the issues which arose). However, the bull Inter gravissimas became the law of the Catholic Church. It was not recognised, however, by Protestant Churches nor by Orthodox Churches and others. Consequently, the days on which Easter and related holidays were celebrated by different Christian Churches again diverged.
Adoption in Europe
Only four Catholic countries adopted the new calendar on the date specified by the bull. Other Catholic countries experienced some delay before adopting the reform; and non-Catholic countries, not being subject to the decrees of the Pope, initially rejected or simply ignored the reform altogether, although they all eventually adopted it. Hence, the dates 5 October 1582 to 14 October 1582 (inclusive) are valid dates in many countries.
Spain, Portugal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and most of Italy implemented the new calendar on Friday, 15 October 1582, following Julian Thursday, 4 October 1582. The Spanish and Portuguese colonies adopted the calendar later due to the slowness of communication. France adopted the new calendar on Monday, 20 December 1582, following Sunday, 9 December 1582. The Dutch provinces of Brabant, Zeeland and the Staten-Generaal also adopted it on 25 December of that year, the provinces forming the Southern Netherlands (modern Belgium) on 1 January 1583, and the province of Holland followed suit on 12 January 1583.
Many non-Catholic countries initially objected to adopting a Catholic invention, despite the efforts of the Counter-Reformation (of which Gregory was a leading proponent); some Protestants feared the new calendar was part of a plot to return them to the Catholic fold. In the Czech lands, Protestants resisted the calendar imposed by the Habsburg Monarchy. In parts of Ireland, Catholic rebels until their defeat in the Nine Years' War kept the "new" Easter in defiance of the English-loyal authorities; later, Catholics practising in secret petitioned the Propaganda Fide for dispensation from observing the new calendar, as it signalled their disloyalty.
Denmark, which then included Norway and some Protestant states of Germany, adopted the solar portion of the new calendar on Monday, 1 March 1700, following Sunday, 18 February 1700, due to the influence of Ole Rømer, but did not adopt the lunar portion. Instead, they decided to calculate the date of Easter astronomically using the instant of the vernal equinox and the full moon according to Kepler's Rudolphine Tables of 1627. They finally adopted the lunar portion of the Gregorian calendar in 1776. The remaining provinces of the Dutch Republic also adopted the Gregorian calendar in July 1700 (Gelderland), December 1700 (Utrecht and Overijssel) and January 1701 (Friesland and Groningen).
Sweden's relationship with the Gregorian Calendar was a difficult one. Sweden started to make the change from the Julian calendar and towards the Gregorian calendar in 1700, but it was decided to make the (then 11-day) adjustment gradually, by excluding the leap days (29 February) from each of 11 successive leap years, 1700 to 1740. In the meantime, the Swedish calendar would be out of step with both the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar for 40 years; also, the difference would not be constant but would change every 4 years. This strange system clearly had great potential for endless confusion when working out the dates of Swedish events in this 40-year period. To make matters worse, the system was poorly administered and the leap days that should have been excluded from 1704 and 1708 were not excluded. The Swedish calendar (according to the transition plan) should now have been 8 days behind the Gregorian, but was still in fact 10 days behind. King Charles XII recognised that the gradual change to the new system was not working, and he abandoned it.
However, rather than proceeding directly to the Gregorian calendar, it was decided to revert to the Julian calendar. This was achieved by introducing the unique date 30 February in the year 1712, adjusting the discrepancy in the calendars from 10 back to 11 days. Sweden finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1753, when Wednesday, 17 February was followed by Thursday, 1 March. Since Finland was under Swedish rule at that time, it did the same.
Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by which time it was necessary to correct by 11 days. Wednesday, 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752 to account for 29 February 1700 (Julian). Claims that rioters demanded "Give us our eleven days" grew out of a misinterpretation of a painting by William Hogarth. After 1753, the British tax year in Britain continued to operate on the Julian calendar and began on 5 April, which was the "Old Style" new tax year of 25 March. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6 April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April.
In Alaska, the change took place when Friday, 6 October 1867 was followed again by Friday, 18 October after the US purchase of Alaska from Russia, which was still on the Julian calendar. Instead of 12 days, only 11 were skipped, and the day of the week was repeated on successive days, because the International Date Line was shifted from Alaska's eastern to western boundary along with the change to the Gregorian calendar.
In Russia the Gregorian calendar was accepted after the October Revolution (so named because it took place in October 1917 in the Julian calendar). On 24 January 1918 the Council of People's Commissars issued a Decree that Wednesday, 31 January 1918 was to be followed by Thursday, 14 February 1918.
The last country of Eastern Orthodox Europe to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece on Thursday, 1 March 1923, following Wednesday, 15 February 1923.
Adoption in Eastern Asia
Japan, the first eastern Asia country adopting the western calendar, replaced its traditional lunisolar calendar with the Gregorian calendar on 1 January 1873, and changed its traditional month names into numbered months, but continued to use Gengo, reign names, instead of the Common Era or Anno Domini system: Meiji 1=1868, Taisho 1=1912, Showa 1=1926, Heisei 1=1989, and so on. The "Western calendar" (西暦, seireki) using western year numbers, is also widely accepted by civilians and to a lesser extent by government agencies.
The Republic of China (ROC) formally adopted the Gregorian calendar at its founding on 1 January 1912, but China soon descended into a period of warlordism with different warlords using different calendars. With the unification of China under the Kuomintang in October 1928, the Nationalist Government decreed that effective 1 January 1929 the Gregorian calendar would be used. However, China retained the Chinese traditions of numbering the months and a modified Era System, backdating the first year of the ROC to 1912; this system is still in use in Taiwan where this ROC government retains control. Upon its foundation in 1949, the People's Republic of China continued to use the Gregorian calendar with numbered months, but abolished the ROC Era System and adopted Western numbered years.
Korea started using the Gregorian calendar on 1 January 1896 owing to Japanese influence. The lunisolar Korean calendar used immediately before that day was based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar.
Adoption by Orthodox Churches
Despite all the civil adoptions, none of the national Orthodox Churches have recognized it for church or religious purposes. Instead, a Revised Julian calendar was proposed in May 1923 which dropped 13 days in 1923 and adopted a different leap year rule. There will be no difference between the two calendars until 2800. The Orthodox churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria adopted the Revised Julian calendar, so until 2800 these New calendarists would celebrate Christmas on 25 December in the Gregorian calendar, the same day as the Western churches.
The Orthodox churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Poland and the Greek Old Calendarists did not accept the Revised Julian calendar, and continue to celebrate Christmas on 25 December in the Julian calendar, which is 7 January in the Gregorian calendar until 2100. The refusal to accept the Gregorian reforms also has an impact on the date of Easter. This is because the date of Easter is determined with reference to 21 March as the functional equinox, which continues to apply in the Julian calendar, even though the civil calendar in the native countries now use the Gregorian calendar.
All of the other Eastern churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syrian, Armenian) and the Assyrian Church, continue to use their own calendars, which usually result in fixed dates being celebrated in accordance with the Julian calendar.
All Eastern churches continue to use the Julian Easter with the sole exception of the Finnish Orthodox Church, which has adopted the Gregorian Easter.
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