Who Broke Our Calendars?
JR. Forasteros - April 8, 2018
A Defense of the Faith
From Series: "Monday Messiah"
We like to claim that Jesus' resurrection changed the world. But how? How does it matter that Jesus was raised from the dead not on Sunday, when we worship, but on Monday, when we dive back into our ordinary lives? In this series, we explore the "I Am" statements Jesus makes in John's Gospel to see how the new life Jesus offers us is as immediate and relevant as ever, right where we live, work and play.
More From "Monday Messiah"
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that Easter falls on April Fool’s Day this year. Let’s talk about the surprising connection between Easter and April Fool’s Day and how Julius Caesar messed up our calendars.
There’s probably been some point in your life you noticed the last third of our calendar is messed up. It starts with September. “Sept” means ‘seven’, but September is the ninth month. The “Oct” in October means ‘eight’, but it’s the tenth month. “Non” means ‘nine’, even though November is 11th, and “Dec” means ‘ten’, like in decimal, even though December is 12th.
It’s like all the months all got pushed back by 2. Which is, actually, exactly what happened.
The Roman Calendar originally had 10 months, with a bunch of extra days in winter that weren’t part of any month. Julius Caesar, the first Roman Emperor, decided this didn’t make any sense, so he added January and February to the front of the year, pushing all the months later. He decided this brilliant calendar needed to be marked forever in the calendar. The Roman Senate renamed the month in which he was born “July” in his honor. And of course the Emperor’s month couldn’t be the short, so they lengthened July to 31 days, taking a day from February (so it went from 30 to 29).
This idea worked so well that Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Caesar Augustus, did the same thing – renaming his birth month ‘August’ and stealing yet another day from poor February so it only had 28 days. Thus, we got July and August, and the rest of the months got pushed back by a couple of numbers, but no one bothered to rename them.
These weren’t just vanity projects (naming a month after yourself is a vanity project but it wasn’t just that). As the ruler of an Empire that was all about conquest and expansion, one of the ways Rome enforced its rule was by changing the calendar. They wanted to rule not just over people’s lives, but their thoughts. They wanted to be in charge of how they perceived the passing of time.
Cultures all over the world used calendars that marked their seasons, their festivals, were named after their gods and heroes. But when Rome conquered you, you had to use their months, named after their gods and kings, marking their festivals. You slowly but surely began to see the world as a Roman did, assuming at a deep level that the sun rose and set on Rome.
Julius Caesar’s calendar was a major fix to previous calendars – it was a 365-day year, with a leap year every four years, to try to keep the calendar straight.
But it still wasn’t quite right.
It was a little bit too long, which meant that, over several hundred years, the calendar drifted. New Year’s Day moved later and later in the year… and so did Easter.
By the 1500s, Pope Gregory VIII decided to fix it. He instituted an even more specific tweak and reset the calendar so that Easter would be in the Spring where it was supposed to be. It also meant that the New Year once again started in the middle of winter. In his reset calendar, January 1 moved, and where the New Year used to be was now April 1.
Not everyone immediately adopted the new calendar; they insisted on using the old Julian calendar. So people made fun of them. They called them ‘April Fools’, and, apparently, decided to play tricks on them. Thus the unofficial holiday ‘April Fool’s Day’ was born.
So on this April Fool’s Day, I want to talk about time. Specifically, let’s talk about who’s in control of time.
Because far too many of us are living as unwitting April Fools. We don’t care too much about how our crazy calendar got to be how it is, but we do feel like our calendars are crazy. We wish we had the power to create some extra minutes in our days, or maybe days in our weeks. We’d take a few extra weeks in our year to get everything done.