Sunday, March 24, 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (On March 25)

"From marie dire to ye generall court now this present 26th of ye 8 moth 59," a snippet of Mary Dyer's letter to the court that had sentenced her to hang with two other Quakers the next day.
A high-quality print of Mary's handwritten letter is available HERE.

©  2019 Christy K Robinson 

If you think keeping track of the changes on and off Daylight Savings Time are difficult, you should take a moment to thank historical authors for figuring out the date of historical events from notes that say "26th of ye 8 moth 59" (26 October 1659). And you thought October was the 10th month.  

Well, October has been the 10th month in the British Empire, including the American colonies, since 1752. But before then, the countries of the empire, including the American colonies, did business by the Julian Calendar, which started on March 25 (New Year's Day). If they celebrated with gift-giving in midwinter, it wasn't at Christmas, but traditionally at the January 1 other new year.

Party on! 17th century English people enjoying their ale in a pub. The man at top right is smoking a tobacco pipe.

Several religious groups, including Puritans and Quakers, didn't want to call months by their Roman or pagan-god names (March for Mars the god of war, or January for Janus the two-faced god), so they numbered the months in this way:
     March = 1st month 

     April = 2nd month
     May = 3rd month
     June = 4th month
     July = 5th month
     August = 6th month
     September (septem being Latin for seven) = 7th month
     October (octo being Latin for eight) = 8th month
     November (novem being Latin for nine) = 9th month
     December (decem being Latin for ten) = 10th month
     January = 11th month
     February = 12th month  

It's interesting that when William Dyer, the first Recorder, first Secretary of State, and first Attorney General of Rhode Island, wrote dates on documents, he did so in the conservative Puritan convention on the Portsmouth Compact, a religious document: "The 7th Day of the First Month, 1638" [7 March 1638], and on a letter to the Boston Puritan theocratic court to try to save Mary, he wrote "27th of 3rd 1660" [27 May 1660]. On Rhode Island documents, however, he wrote this way: "this present XX day of December Ano Domy 1644" [20 December 1644]. William Dyer knew his audience and communicated appropriately. 

When I'm teaching octaves or the 8va symbol to my piano students, I like to mess with their heads. 
     Me: "How many arms does an octopus have?" 
     Student: "Eight." 
     Me: "How many sides does an octagon have?"
     Student: "Eight."
     Me: "How many tones do you hear when I play a C scale?" 
     Student: (Counts the tones) "Eight."
     Me: "From C to the next C is an interval of an octave, of eight tones. What number month of the year is October?" 
     Student: (Counts months on fingers) "Ten." 
     Me: "Muahahaha!" (Short discussion of Julian and Gregorian calendars ensues.) 

Wikipedia explains the calendar and its change in this way: 

The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect on 1 January 45 BC by edict. It was the predominant calendar in the Roman world, most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was refined and gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.
The Gregorian calendar was decreed in 1582 by the papal bull Inter gravissimas by Pope Gregory XIII, to correct a divergence in the canonical date of the [northern] spring equinox from observed reality (due to an error in the Julian system) that affected the calculation of the date of Easter. Although Gregory's reform was enacted in the most solemn of forms available to the Church, the bull had no authority beyond the Catholic Church and the Papal States. The changes he was proposing were changes to the civil calendar, over which he had no formal authority. They required adoption by the civil authorities in each country to have legal effect.
The bull became the canon law of the Catholic Church in 1582, but it was not recognised by Protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and a few others. Consequently, the days on which Easter and related holidays were celebrated by different Christian churches again diverged. 
In addition to moving New Year back to January 1, the New Style calendar (the Gregorian) subtracted 11 days to account for the earth's 365.25-day trip around the sun that had wreaked havoc with planning religious holidays like Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Not only was it as confusing and as contentious to the people of the British empire as a Brexit from the European Union, the Old Style/New Style calendar change still confuses historians, authors, and genealogy hobbyists today. If a baby was born on 7th of 1st month 1644/45, which date will you convert to in your ancestry records? 
     a.) January 7, 1644
     b.) January 7, 1645 
     c.) March 7, 1644 
     d.) March 7, 1645 

The answer is D, even though March 7 precedes New Year. Seems crazy, right? But it helps explain why your 9th great-grandparent has several dates listed by other descendants.

In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, March 25 is Lady Day (as in "our Lady" or Mary the mother of Jesus) or Feast of the Anunciation, the announcement by the angel that Mary would be the mother of the promised Messiah. Anunciation is nine months, the length of a pregnancy, before Christmas Day. Almost everyone, including the papacy, agrees that December 25 is a manmade holiday, not the actual birthday of Jesus. 

In some cultures, New Year was April 1, and tied up with April Fools' Day origins. But for business and legal purposes for several centuries, March 25 was designated.

Aren't you glad we've standardized most calendars across the globe?

Good luck with your New Year resolutions. I only hope you've recovered from that whole "spring forward" thing on Daylight Savings Time!

Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

1 comment:

  1. Facebook comments:

    Michelle Brown --This Rhode Island daughter’s birthday is March 25th. Thank you for sharing your blog. Interesting stuff!

    Christy K Robinson --You're welcome. Happy New--um--birthday!

    Michelle Brown --Thank you! I have a grandfather that fought in the Rhode Island regiment in the Revolutionary War.

    Daniel Patt --Providence still can't get it straight. My dad was born 12 May 1912. Their records show 12 Mar 1812. They would not take my word as his son. Looking at abbreviated date, really hard to tell if third letter is r or y.


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