Until the time of Julius
Caesar the Roman year was organized round the phases of the
moon. For many reasons this was hopelessly inaccurate so, on
the advice of his astronomers, Julius instituted a calendar
centered round the sun. It was decreed that one year was to
consist of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days,
divided into twelve months; the month of Quirinus was
renamed 'July' to commemorate the Julian reform.
Unfortunately, despite the introduction of leap years, the
Julian calendar overestimated the length of the year by
eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which comes to one day every
on hundred and twenty-eight years. By the sixteenth century
the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by
Pope Gregory XIII lopped the eleven minutes fifteen seconds
off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days.
This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic
Protestant Europe was
not going to be told what day it was by the Pope, so it kept
to the old Julian calendar. This meant that London was a
full ten days ahead of Paris. The English also kept the 25th
of March as New Year's Day rather than the 1st of
January. By the time England came round to adopting the
Gregorian calendar, in the middle of the eighteenth century,
England was eleven days ahead of the Continent.
A Calendar Act was
passed in 1751 which stated that in order to bring England
into line, the day following the 2nd of September 1752 was
to be called the 14th, rather than the 3rd of September.
Unfortunately, many people were not able to understand this
simple manoeuvre and thought that the government had stolen
eleven days of their lives. In some parts there were riots
and shouts of 'give us back our eleven days!'
Before the calendar was
reformed, England celebrated Christmas on the equivalent of
the 6th of January by our modern, Gregorian reckoning. That
is why in some parts of Great Britain people still call the
6th of January, Old Christmas Day.