Correcting the calendar

Are you interested in a new calendar?

No, no, not a Star Trek calendar, or a Lord of the Rings calendar, or a Trailer Park Boys calendar (although this is certainly an excellent time of the year to buy one, what with them all being on half-price even though 2004 hasn’t quite bit the dust yet). I’m talking about a really new calendar–as in, a new way to keep track of days, months and years.

Our current calendar is, as I’ve written about before, a rather odd concoction, cobbled together over centuries.

The earliest calendars were purely lunar: a new month began with each crescent moon. Alas, 12 lunar months is only 354.36 days, almost 11 days shorter than a year, which meant within just a few years, a date that used to be in winter would end up in summer, making these calendars useless as a guide to planting or religious festivals.

Most ancient cultures got around that problem by throwing in a few extra days now and then. That’s what the Roman Empire did, but its calendar eventually became a hopeless mess because politicians kept fiddling with it to lengthen their terms or hasten or delay elections (among other reasons.) Julius Caesar took charge of the matter and, with the substantial help of Greek astronomer Sosigenes, installed the “Julian” calendar, which divided the solar year into 12 months of slightly varying lengths, adding up to 365 days. Every fourth year, an extra day was added at the end of February to compensate for the fact that the year is actually just a little longer than 365 days.

That was a pretty good scheme, but every 385-year period, the Julian calendar created three leap years too many. As the centuries went by, religious festivals began to creep into the wrong seasons again.

Enter our current calendar, the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII (although astronomer Christopher Clavius did the work). It makes years ending in 00 leap years only when they are divisible by 400. Everything has been hunky-dory since 1582, when many countries adopted it.

Except, that is, for the way dates drift by one day of the week per year (two days of the week following each Leap Day insertion). Wouldn’t it be neat to have a calendar when dates always fell on the same day of the week–when Christmas, for instance, is always on a Sunday?

Richard Conn Henry, a professor in the physics and astronomy department at Johns Hopkins University, thinks so–and has designed a calendar to make it happen.

In his calendar, which I suppose we might call “Henrian” (although he doesn’t–he calls it, prosaically, the “Calendar-and-Time Plan”), January, February, April, May, July, August, October and November would all have 30 days, while March, June, September and December would have 31.

As for the inconvenient fact that a year is actually 365.2422 days instead of 365, he gets around that not with a leap day every four years–which would advance all the following dates by one day of the week, obviously–but with the addition of an extra week every five or six years.

Henry calls that extra week a “mini-month,” and would like to dub it Newton, after his personal hero, Sir Isaac Newton. He suggests it could be a universal holiday, a time to do whatever you want.

If the Henrian calendar were adopted in 2006, Newton would first appear in 2009. The next would be in 2015, the next in 2020, the next in 2026, and so on.

And Henry would like to see his calendar adopted in 2006 (when New Year’s Day will be on a Sunday). He’s the president of a new online organization called the “International Association for 2006.”

Not content with reforming the calendar, Henry would also like to reform time–he wants to do away with time zone and put the whole world on Universal Time (a.k.a. Greenwich Mean Time).

Here in Saskatchewan, that would mean seeing the sun rise at noon and set at midnight on the equinoxes, but Henry thinks we’d soon get used to it, just as we, and many other countries, have gotten used to the change from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

Well, I kind of like the Henrian calendar, but here in Saskatchewan, just the notion of changing our clocks in sync with the rest of the country results has produced thousands of tirades on the phone-in shows, newspaper columns and editorials ad nauseum, and letters to the editor that reach from here to British Columbia.

Now he wants to convince Saskatchewanians to adopt a time system that has the sun rising at midnight?

The mind boggles.

Henry, meet Quixote. He could use your help with some windmills…

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