Today we think about Calendars—-a large number of misguided souls believe that today has some great mystical significance in the Maya Calendar. Some people even think the world might end today. Some people think “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” I actually DO feel OK, come to think of it—I’m here in beautiful New Orleans, and nothing anywhere could be finer or sweeter than to savor this day in this spot and from this vantage point in the French Quarter.
But the Solstice is a fine day to think about the Calendar regardless of the correlation or miscorrelation of the Maya Calendar. I honestly do not believe that the Aztec Fifth Sun (Nahui Ollin = “4 Earthquake”) or Maya Baktun 13 (properly correlated) are actually ending today, and if they did, good riddance I guess. These last 500 years have not been kind either to the Maya or the Aztec. But I still favor, as I have for almost 32 years, George Clapp Vaillant’s 22.214.171.124.0 correlation rather than the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson 126.96.36.199.0. 188.8.131.52.0 works just as well with the Crónica de Oxcutzcab and MUCH better with the archaeological record of the transition between the Terminal Classic and Postclassic…. Vaillant was the pioneer of stratigraphic excavation and ceramic chronology in Mesoamerican Archaeology, and his very early (mid-1920s) Harvard doctoral dissertation on the Ceramic Chronology of the Maya Lowlands was….really just amazing, as was his work at Holmul and his later work in the Valley of Mexico while working at the American Musem of Natural History in New York….
In the mid-17th Century, until the Calendrical Act of 1751. It is widely known that in September 1752, Great Britain switched from the “Old Style” Julian Calendar (aka “O.S.” on many 18th century monuments, including almost all the old Colonial Churchyards in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut) to the Gregorian Calendar. In order to achieve the change, 11 days were ‘omitted’ from the calendar – i.e. the day after 2 September 1752 was 14 September 1752.
An Act of Parliament triggered all this (yes, for a long time the Government has been telling us “what time it is”) – this act, the “Calendar Act” of 1751 bore the preambular title of An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year; and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use.
What isn’t so widely known is the second, and in some ways even more significant change which the Act introduced – as named in the first part of the Act’s title. The Act changed the first day of the year (or, if you want to impress your ignorant, historically unaware, quasi-illiterate American friends with a new word, the Supputation of the Year).
Prior to 1752 in England, the year began on 25 March (Lady Day) as it had indeed since long before the time of Julius Caesar after whom the Julian Calendar was named. March 25 was one of the two dates seriously considered for bearing the honor of Christmas (birthday of Christ Jesus, Lord and Savior of the World—I mention this only because most people think of Christmas as strictly an event in the commercial and party calendar these days) at the Counsel of Nicea under Emperor Constantine the Great. But March 25, from the Biblical Evidence of Shepherds being out tending their sheep on the hillsides of Judea, would make a lot more sense as Christmas than December 25, when the sheep would all have been brought down out of the cold….
Lady Day is one of the Quarter Days, which are still used in English, Irish, and Scottish legal circles. The Quarter Days divide the year in quarters (hence the name :-), and the Quarter Days are: Lady Day (25 March), Midsummers Day (24 June), Michaelmas Day (29 September), and Christmas Day (25 December).
Lady Day was one of the days when rents were traditionally due. In fact, this practice must have continued will beyond the 18th century as I’ve seen paintings of large meals for farm workers on Lady Day. Taxes were also due on Lady Day. With the ‘loss’ of 11 days in September 1752 and the stories of riots on the street, people weren’t impressed with having to pay their taxes in March 1753 like nothing had happened (in fact, as 25 March 1753 was a Sunday the taxes were due on Monday 26 March 1753 ) – so the taxman skipped the 11 days and decreed that taxes were due on 6 April 1753. And, to this day, the UK tax year starts on 6 April.
In any event, in Jolly Old England in the Good Old “Old Style” Days, the day after 24 March 1642 was 25 March 1643. The Act changed this, so that the day after 31 December 1751 was 1 January 1752. As a consequence, 1751 was a short year – it ran only from 25 March to 31 December. The famous riots which occurred all over England “GIVE US BACK OUR 11 DAYS” were in part a response to the fact that the rents for that year were increased, along with the taxes…. always a bad thing to do in defiance of the Traditional Rights of Englishmen….
To throw some just a bit more confusion into the issue, Scotland had changed the first day of the year to 1 January in 1600 (in 1600, Scotland was a separate kingdom). When King James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England in 1603, the possibilities of date confusion must have been very large.
Historians have to tread rather carefully when reporting winter month dates prior to 1752. For example, in The Tower of London there is some graffiti scratched into a cell wall by someone imprisoned in January 1642 for his role in the Battle of Edgehill (which took place on 23 October 1642). And this is totally accurate, historically: January, February, and most of March of 1643 (by our reckoning, were originally considered to be part of 1642—the graffitist was NOT delusional by any stretch at all).
Historical documents contain, from the century or so before the Calendar Act, substantial evidence of contemporary dual dating in England and especially Scotland. For example, some essentially contemporary paintings of the execution of King Charles I (aka “King Charles the Martyr”) on Tuesday 30 January 1648 have a title bearing the date 30 January 1648/9.
Samuel Pepys’s famous diary begins on New Years Day (1 January) 1660, but it is clear that this is actually the year 1659/60. So was the Calendar Act in 1751 merely formalising common usage, or was it a radical change ? The preface to one recent and authoritative edition of Samuel Pepys’s diary states that using 1 January as the start of the year was common practice at that time – i.e. 1660.
Likewise, a tourist pamphlet I once collected at Broughton Castle (just SW of Banbury in Oxfordshire, the ancestral home of the Fiennes family, including the aristocratic Norman and Cavalier ancestors of Hollywood/Pinewood actors Ralph and Joseph. It is appropriate to recall Ralph’s portrayal of famous Fascists in “Schindler’s List” and “the English Patient” and Joseph’s “M” roles Martin Luther, Merlin, and Most recently as Monsignor Timothy Howard, not to mention their nephew “Hero” who played Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort in the Half Blood Prince. Yet another member of the family is “gasp” an archaeologist—Michael Fiennes.
Anyhow the tourist guide pamphlet for the mediaeval manor house Broughton refers to a speech made on Thursday 27 January 1658 – and the pamphlet states it was printed in 1659. In order for the day to be a Thursday, this must be referring to 27 January 1658/9 (i.e. the pamphlet was printed some months after the speech), however the year is specified as 1658 – and not as 1658/9.
So did the year of Charles II’s glorious restoration, in fact commence on 25 March in 1658, or on 1 January in 1660 ?
Perhaps the answer is connected with the coronation of King Charles II in Scotland on 1 January 1651 – that’s a Scottish date, for a Scottish king. Perhaps the Royalist cause Cavalier Longhairs used ‘Scottish’ dates, and the Roundhead Parliamentarian cause used ‘old style’ dates? This theory doesn’t sit well with the fact that from 1654 Pepys had been steward to Edward Mountagu, a General-at-Sea in Cromwell’s Protectorate, but Pepys was to make his fame and fortune and contribution to literary and social history during the Restoration and Reign of King Charles Edward Stuart, II.
King Charles II did not become king of England until 8 May 1660 (coronation on 23 April 1661), after the start of Samuel Pepys’s diary.
In the Julian Calendar, leap years occurred every 4 years, and in leap years the 29 February was added.
But remember that 29 February was in the last quarter of the year by the old reckoning.
And so it appears that leap years have NOT always (at least in the Old Style) been those where the year number was one less than an exact multiple of 4! (e.g. 1600, 1660, 1776, 1788, and all American Presidential Election Years since).
The House of Commons Journal for Wednesday, February 29th, 1659 would seem to bear this out – remembering that this date is otherwise expressed as 29 February 1659/60, and appears in Samuel Pepys’s diary as 29 February 1660 (just to add to the confusion).
House of Commons Journal for Thursday, 29 February 1643 (otherwise 29 February 1643/4) and House of Commons Journal for Tuesday, 29 February 1647 (otherwise 29 February 1647/8) confirm this, although note the Latin form of the dates which was presumably dropped in the Commonwealth/Protectorate.
Anyhow, a truly Old-Style English Christmas Tree will always go up on the Night of the Solstice and this is totally perfect and appropriate and in line with the Pagan heritage of the Christmas tree. I wish everyone else would stick to the schedule properly—I hate it that the New World Order Common Commercial Christmas starts November 1 (at the latest) in all the stores everywhere IN THE WORLD.
I love the old-fashioned ways of putting up the tree on the Shortest Day and Longest Night—and keeping it up a few days past Epiphany at the most. Christmas really is more magical when it’s limited to “the Season” properly defined. Kind of like how Mardi Gras in New Orleans has become a nearly year round thing with beads and tokens all over the place all year….
Thursday night, I had a young Moldovan cabdriver from Kishniev this evening to bring me back from Tulane Law via the Trolley stop restaurant on Saint Charles. He was sure I had never heard of his country, said I was the first American ever to accurately locate it between Romania and Ukraine, and was even more amazed that anyone in the US would know where the River Moldau was….. luckily for him, he had no idea why it was I know so much about Moldavia… why I know it better than I want to….. It was so refreshing to see someone so young and innocent talking about American Christmas and New Orleans Mardi Gras customs….and being so amazed by them all…..
Remembering that from the early 13th to the mid-18th Century, Old Style, before the 11 day Calendrical adjustment, the Shortest Day and Longest Night of the Year fell on December 13, and came to be known as Saint Lucy’s Night, I reproduce today, as I do every year, John Donne’s Nocture on Saint Lucy’s Night in memory of my grandmother who knew how to keep this season so very well…. and this was the ONLY night she ever put up the Christmas tree at 3516 Lindenwood in Highland Park, or wherever the season happened to land us….
A NOCTURNAL UPON SAINT LUCY’S DAY, BEING THE SHORTEST DAY, by John Donne
‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world’s whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.
But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.