1752: The Year of the Missing 11 days

Monday, February 29, AD 2016

“It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”

Benjamin Franklin celebrating the elimination of 11 days in the switchover in 1752 from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.

February 29, seems like an appropriate date to discuss the Gregorian Calendar.  The Julian Calendar, implemented by Julius Caesar, had been a striking advance for its day, placing the Roman calendar on a solar, rather than a lunar basis, and being only 11 minutes off in the length of the solar year, a strikingly accurate estimate for the time.  However, eleven minutes added up as the long centuries passed, and by the sixteenth century the calendar and the seasons were ten days out of whack, which was important to the Church in regard to the calculation of Easter.  The Gregorian Calendar implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 eliminated ten days from the calendar and instituted the February 29 leap year, ever four years, to compensate for the extra six hours between 365 days and the solar year which adds up each year.  Three leap years are skipped every four centuries in years which are divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400.  The Gregorian Calendar is off by 26 seconds each year as to the length of the solar year which results in an extra day every 3,323 years.

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5 Responses to 1752: The Year of the Missing 11 days

  • St Teresa of Avila died on the night of the 4th and 15th September 1582, the day/s the Gregorian Calendar came into effect.

    In Scotland, from 1600 on, merchants and others tended to operate with both calendars andi t is common to find dates in letters or deeds expressed as OS (Old style or Julian) or NS (New Style or Gregorian) From 1 January 1600, the year had begun on 1 January; previously, it had begun on Lady Day (25 March) and continued to do so in England until 1752.

    A curious legacy of the reform is that the tax year, which previously ended on Lady Day now ends on 5 April – 25 March OS

  • MPS, I recall that Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone at Monticello Virginia has his birth date listed as “OS”. (Born in 1743)
    Upon briefly researching it today, I see that the original stone was replaced in the 19th century. Naturally, that’s the one I saw.

  • exNOAAman

    I recall reading somewhere that, after the Calendar Act, George Washington, who was born on 11 February 1731, celebrated his bisrthday on 22 February.

    I wonder if the practice was widespread and if people adjusted for 1800, which was a leap year in the Julian, but not in the Gregorian calendar.

  • I had not known that the Saxons persisted with the Julian calendar for nearly 170 years after the Italians, Pope and Spain adopted the Gregorian calendar. In 1588, the year of the Armada, the difference in calendar dates was 10 day numbers according to Garrett Mattingly, who in his book, The Armada, attributes this to the Englishmen’s “sturdy conservatism.”

  • T Shaw

    John Donne wrote his “A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day, being the Shortest Day” in 1617. St Lucy’s Day is the 13th December. It is still celebrated as a winter festival in Sweden with a young girl wearing a crown of candles; thei obviously dates from the time when it fell on the Winter solstice.

    Likewise, there is a couplet, obviously dating from the 16th or 17th century,
    Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright
    The longest day and the shortest night

    The feast of St Barnabas is on 11 June

15 Responses to For the record…

  • Chris,

    I tried valiantly to fight that battle a decade ago. Since then, I’ve decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

    Happy New Decade!


  • Chris:

    I have to take issue with you. I’m a stickler for this sort of thing, and I was one of those who refused to start the new millennium/century in 2000. Decades, unlike centuries, are not counted ordinally. We don’t say we’re beginning the 202nd decade. Decades refer to a random set of 10 years, unlike centuries, which refer to a specific set of 100 years. Thus the 2010s do indeed begin today.

  • Paul,
    You raise a fair point, but it is not altogether persuasive. First, strictly speaking I don’t think that either millennia or centuries must be counted ordinally, though they certainly commonly are. Similarly, I don’t think decades are necessarily not counted ordinally, though I concede they mostly are not. Shoot, even a year can be any random or assigned set of 365 days (e.g., fiscal years), but that does not mean that we don’t also count years ordinally. It is difficult to ignore the fact that today’s common practice of counting decades starting with year zero, even if technically not incorrect, is almost certainly the result of the same erroneous thinking that caused most people to regard January 1, 2000 as the first day of a new century and new millenium. The bottom line is that while starting decades is not technically incorrect, the custom is probably the result of fuzzy thinking; and this same fuzzy thinking is commonly applied to centuries as well (for the exact same reason) and will quite possibly lead to an analogous custom there as well.

  • Fuzzy thinking, maybe. Perhaps just a harmless and useful categorization. When people refer to a particular decade it’s usually a casual reference and the mind is probably just focusing on the numeral in the “ten” place. i.e. Reagan was elected twice in the 80’s. Super accurate, no. Useful and meaningful, yes. Similarly, in the tech field they use base 10 – the ten numerals start with 0 and go through 9. I think it’s just a similar mode of thinking. Besides, you may not want to make an issue of it because it will change nothing and might make you seem like the types who can’t distinguish between conservative and liberal in a given context – and you sure don’t want that. 🙂

    Happy New Year, all, and blessing in this new decade!

  • Thank you Chris.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Where’s a Magisterium for numbers et al. when you need one? 🙂

  • Of course this is the last year of the decade. And 2000 was the last year of the 90’s, and 1990 was the last year of the 80’s, and 1980 was the last year of the 70’s…

    Actually I TRULY TRULY doubt that any of the pedants who insist on reminding everyone that there was no year “zero” and thus every decade starts at a 1 would say that a person born in 1980 was born in “the seventies” and the lack of consistency irks me a lot.

    This pointless bickering about how to divide the decades / centuries / millenia turned up ten years ago, too, and it’s primarily the fault of insufferable know-it-alls that we have these ridiculous arguments in the first place. There’s a difference between the LINGUISTIC way of referring to the decades, in which speakers of English divide them beginning at the zero year of a decade, and the MATHEMATICAL way of dividing them, which calculates them according to how many full ten-year periods have passed.

    It feels like writing the number seven as “7” and then having a computer scientist come and say, “No, that’s wrong, it’s 111”. Believe it or not there are just different standards for calculating these things and I absolutely can’t stand the smugness of people who insist on bringing this up when it’s REALLY a non-issue. Just move on people.

    Sorry to take out all my frustration at this site but I’m getting sick of rehashing this conversation and this was the last straw. And it wouldn’t even be a problem if the “decades start at 1” constituency didn’t insist on talking down to everyone. We’re all aware of your argument and don’t really give a (you know).

  • If you want to get REALLY picky on this question, the Year 1 A.D. (Roman year 754) WASN’T the actual “Year One” of Christ’s life on earth, which is supposed to be the basis of our year numbering system.

    Scholars have long believed Christ was born sometime during the period we now reckon as the years 8 to 4 B.C. He could NOT have been born any later than 4 B.C. (Roman year 750) since that is the year Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus) died.

    So technically speaking, the “third millennium” Anno Domini really began sometime between 1992 and 1996, and all our year, decade, century, etc. numbers are probably off by about 6 years anyway.

    Happy Year of Our Lord 2016 everybody! 🙂

  • Chris, one man plus the truth makes a majority. Stick to your guns.

  • SJG, tell us how you *really* feel. 🙂

  • I hope my post didn’t come across like SJG’s. There was no frustration, or derision behind mine. Frankly, I don’t care how people view it and was only trying to express what I consider valid observations.

  • I see both arguments having some validity; however, the fact remains that we use a dating standard, which is far more recent an occurance than commonly beleived in order to regulate our interactions, especially in a global 24/7/365 world (I know a year is not exactly 365 days – leave it alone). We do need to agree on time and date in order to interact with each other in some manner of order.

    There is another less practical and more important aspect. Elaine discussed it very well above. We date from Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord. Is it cosmically and methematically accurate? No. Then again we also know that The Nativity of Christ is not on December 25th. So what? That is the number the Church has fixed and our liturgical years are set by it. 25 Chislev is the day the Temple was rededicated – so it is an important date.

    I think that part of our obedience (and this is not obligatory because it is not a matter of fatih or morals, but it is important) is to follow the Church as accurately as possible. Especially in the liturgical cycle.

    If we count the year that occured 2,010 years ago as the first Year of Our Lord, then this year ends the first decade of the third millenium, which began on January 1, 2001.

    As the world tries to crowd out God and His Son, we need to take every opporunity to remind the world that she has a Savior. I notice this website is one of the few places where I see dating using A.D., mostly it is ignored and far too often it is C.E. – what the heck is so bloody common about this era anyway?

  • Rick, I thought you made some excellent points, e.g. “the 80’s”, which SJG echoed with his reference to linguistic/mathematical conventions. And I certainly found no derision or frustration in your post.

  • On the bright side we only have to revisit this question every ten/eleven years! 🙂

  • When we are born, we start from a few seconds old, and as we grow through the days, weeks, and months, we achieve our first year – we are ONE year old, after we have journeyed through our first year.
    When we have done this for ten years, at our 10th. Birthday, we have lived for one decade.

    Similarly, in 2010, we have lived through that number of years since the agreed Anno Domini.

    2010 is therefore the end of the old decade, and therefore the commencement of the new.

    BTW, we had a Blue Moon on New Years Eve.

    Does that portend anything cataclysmic for the future? 😉