Tag Archives: Julian calendar

Come Together

Although today is Easter for some, for many it generally isn’t. And I don’t mean just those who follow faiths outside Christianity. One of the hallmarks of religions is their tendency to fragment like a sugar egg under Thor’s hammer. Christians have long disagreed on the date of Easter depending on which time reckoning scheme they follow. That which makes it onto most work calendars is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox after the Gregorian calendar. After all those afters it’s easy to get confused, but the fact is this kind of precision makes it possible to date Easter until the Earth slows on its axis or Mitch McConnell learns to look at things from someone else’s point-of-view, although we all know which is more likely. This year, in a rare coincidence of the Gregorian and Julian calendars, however, Orthodox Easter is the same as Catholic Easter. Could it be sign of hope?

You see, calendars aren’t just markers of time. They’ve always been religious devices. In fact, our current calendar, the Gregorian, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII. The world still marches to the beat of Rome’s drum. Nature, it seems, is indifferent to our calendrical needs. The point of all this time keeping was to help those who lived by the soil to know when to plant and when to harvest. That might seem simplistic, but if you follow how it feels outside there would’ve been some sowing going on in February around here. Global warming, for those who’ve advanced to the Gregorian calendar (that’s okay Mr. McConnell, you may leave the room) will throw that off, and maybe we’ll be needing a new calendar. Will we retain the one with it’s pagan month names or shall we adopt one with months of evangelical heroes? But wait, not all evangelical groups celebrate Easter!

I had a college roommate who believed all holidays were of the Devil. His sect of Christianity didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. So even as Orthodox and Heterodox join together in recognizing today as Easter, not everyone’s together on that point. Some mythologize bunnies and eggs while others dismiss them as hopelessly pagan. So it is that we have to agree to disagree. Teach the controversy, right Mitch? While some celebrate resurrection today others put their Peeps in the microwave just for the fun of having that kind of power over the weak.

Having your cake, and having it too.

Washington’s Birthday

Today’s post is an excerpt from an unpublished tween book I wrote on the origin of American holidays a few years back. Other excerpts are available on the Full Essays page of this blog.

Our founding father, a little worse for wear

Today is the earliest of only three government holidays devoted to an individual, specifically George Washington. Also called President’s Day, this holiday comes on the third Monday in February. Washington was born February 11, 1731. In an interesting twist of fate, when the Gregorian calendar was finally accepted in the United States in 1752 Washington found his birthday shifted to February 22. Washington died in 1799, but the idea of national holidays for a single person had not yet been invented. It took almost a century for someone to do something about it. When Washington’s Birthday was first observed in 1880 only the government offices in the District of Columbia (named for Washington, of course) got the day off. Naturally, they celebrated it on February 22. Five years later, in 1885, all federal offices took the day off.

Now, the problem with government holidays is that Post Offices, which are run by the government, are also closed. That means no mail. For businesses that used to mean an interruption of work – believe it or not, before the Internet was invented nearly all business relied on snail mail! It is hard for a business to take a day off in the middle of a week, so in 1971 George Washington’s birthday was moved again so that it would always be on a Monday. Washington, being long dead, said nothing.

When I was a kid I always thought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809) was a holiday too. It came before Washington’s birthday, but still in February. Since junk mail hadn’t yet been invented, I didn’t notice whether the mail came or not. Lincoln’s birthday was printed on the calendar, but it has never been an official federal holiday. Now, here’s a funny thing: individual states have the right to set state holidays or even rename federal holidays. Lincoln’s Birthday, for example, is a state holiday in Illinois.

In the 1980s Washington’s Birthday underwent another transformation. Noticing that Lincoln’s Birthday was ten days before Washington’s (remember, on the Julian calendar Washington’s birthday was February 11) businesses could call it President’s Day and stores could offer sales. So, wait, what is this holiday called and when is it? Its official, federal name is Washington’s Birthday. Many people, and some states, call it President’s Day. It is always observed on the third Monday in February. And George Washington would have been just as confused as anybody, because he is the only president with three different birthdays!