Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy Birthday George Washington!

Back when I was a kid we celebrated George Washington’s birthday as a separate holiday; as we did with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. There was a special quality about having the day off in the middle of the week that is lacking in the combined holidays, resulting in the 3 day weekend we now refer to as President’s Day.

First off, a little bit of trivia. Washington was not born on the 22nd of February 1732.  He was born on February 11, 1731, over one year earlier. In 1731 we were still using the old Annunciation Style calendar which was woefully outdated as compared to the science of astronomy. It wasn’t until 1752 that the British government switched over to the new Gregorian calendar under the provisions of the New Style Act of 1750. I actually learned this is in 5th grade.

Calendars have changed many times throughout the history of the world. The earliest calendars were based upon observations of the moon, which was the closest and brightest thing visible to the ancients. The lunar calendar sufficed for thousands of years and served the basic purpose of marking time. Seasonally, there were adjustments necessary due to weather which affected the planting and harvesting of crops; then came the Sun.

When Copernicus proved that the earth revolved about the sun; and not the opposite; it was an upheaval in accepted logic. But this was the beginning point at which human beings came to redefine their understanding;  and methods of; chronicling the passing years.

The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used of calendars due to the fact that it is secular and scientific in nature. It’s interesting to note that this calendar is based upon Copernicus’ observations, as it was only a few decades removed from the Spanish Inquisition, during which the very teachings of Copernicus were banned by the Church. That the church even accepted a calendar based upon the sun as a fixed object, with no religious significance in the keeping of time, was a tremendous event.

The main advantage of the Gregorian calendar is that it keeps most of the world on the same schedule; a feat which became of increasing importance as the world seemingly “shrunk” with the advent of the Age of Exploration and Industrialization. For the most part though, the world’s leading religions; including the Roman Catholic Church; still use an older outdated calendar in calculating the dates of religious traditions and ceremonies.

For instance, the Roman Catholic Church relies on the insertion of a correction each year in determining the dates of Good Friday and Easter. It doesn’t always coincide with the actual history, as Good Friday and Easter often fall before the Jewish holiday of Passover, the events of which had to have occurred before the Crucifixion of Jesus. The Jewish calendar is still lunar based; and much like the Chinese Buddhist calendar, it can get confusing.

Pope Gregory XIII signed a Papal decree on February 24, 1582 adopting the new calendar in Europe. The other European nations followed within the next couple of centuries, with the practice reaching America in the early half of the 18th Century, just in time for the birth of George Washington.

The switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar may seem silly, as it is based upon only 11 minutes or so of difference in the time calculated for the earth to revolve about the sun. But over a period of time; centuries; this adds up considerably if not corrected. Something like 3 days in 400 years. When Gregory was Pope we had already slipped by 10 days since the Roman era. This made the spring equinox fall on the 11th of the March instead of the 21st, and it was still drifting further away from that fixed date; which had been set by the church centuries earlier. Since that date affected the timing of the Christian holidays, the Church decided to “fix” it.

There were 2 parts to the “fix”; the first being a change in the number of “leap years” observed every 4 centuries to 97 from 100. This was the idea of Aloysius Lilius, a Calabrian physician. While the shift from the lunar calendar to the solar based Julian calendar was a big step forward in keeping track of the passing years, the Gregorian calendar was an even further step in this direction.

There is much more involved in the history of the calendar which we use today as we further refine our time keeping methods with atomic clocks and “leap second” corrections. But, this is just a simplified account of how George Washington had his birthday changed by more than a year.


Hey,Rush Limbaugh! 

Rush Limbaugh is ashamed of America! Guess what? We're ashamed of Rush Limbaugh. The talk show host has, in the past, told all apologists for America to love it or leave it. He also promised to move to Canada if President O'Bama won the election in 2008. We're still waiting....

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