Productivity

The Original Back to the Future

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Photo by Zulfa Nazer on Unsplash

Once in a while, the calendar gets us: you think it’s Wednesday, but someone casually breaks it to you that it’s actually Thursday. Yet what if someone told you you‘d have to “jump” 10 days ahead? All those meetings you had planned, all those deadlines you thought you didn’t have to deal with just yet?

That’s what happened on October 4,1582: it was followed by October 15, 1582, and everybody, no matter what deadlines they were about to miss, had to accept it. Well, not everybody, but more on that later.

When you think switching to summer time is inconvenient

It was the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, which is what the vast majority of countries use nowadays. The Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII who ordered to commission it, was an attempt to correct the inaccuracies on the Julian calendar that, due to excess of leap years, had been falling behind with solar years. The new calendar was finalized by a prominent mathematician and astronomer Christopher Clavius, and required 10 days to be dropped to “catch up”.

The new calendar, however, wasn’t welcomed equally enthusiastically, or even equally early, around the world. Since it was the Pope’s decree to adopt it, the Catholic countries made the switch first. The Protestant countries saw it as an instrument to expand the Catholic sphere of influence and decided not to swallow what they saw as a bait. When crossing the border, wanderers were going forth (and back) 10 days in time in Europe for many decades. Imagine the situation in Germany where countries in those times were sometimes just as small as today’s counties.

Is today…today?

Long story short, the inconvenience of having different calendars – not just the Julian one, but various others – did bring most of the countries to adopt the Gregorian calendar in the end (thank you, international trade!). What was the inconvenience, you say? Simply keeping records of different events, tracking birthdays and, thus, doing genealogy research was a bit of a headache, not to mention double-checking meeting dates, making sure they are indeed on the same day.

Finding a meeting time convenient for all can be one frustrating task, and now imagine finally agreeing on it, only to discover later the date you had in mind means a different date for your companions. And although you might be thinking, “Wait, wouldn’t that mean I could potentially get birthday presents twice a year?”, probably the inconveniences experienced on other occasions convinced the country leaders that not even a double birthday is worth it. That’s how bad it was.

Calendars are complicated constructs, and switching from one to another, as history tells us, can be one interesting experience. Let’s hope we don’t need to live through another one of these rides anytime soon. Let’s enjoy the fact that we can plan our meetings without confusion, and think of other ways to trick people into giving us birthday presents on two different days.

By Justina Poskeviciute

Justina is an awesome writer living in Budapest.

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