Why are the months September through December misaligned with the numbers they imply?
Not many people think about this issue. We have always used the calendar without questioning it, and we have always known September as the ninth month, October as the tenth, November as the Eleventh, and of course December the twelfth. What seems to be the problem here?
Well, for starters, Sept in most ancient languages means the number seven. Its derived from the Sanskrit word Saptha for seven. Similarly, Octo is eight, Nov is nine, and Dec, the root word for the decimal system, means ten. So, do you see the problem now? What the hell happened?
If you have some time to spare ( I believe you do, because you are reading this random blog post from a random dude), we have to go back a few millennia. Initially, almost all cultures, followed a lunar calendar. Why did they do that? Because it was the easiest to observe and it has a clear pattern.
Moon, in a true sense of the word cosmic coincidence, always shows us the same face. And with in that face ( side of the moon), it always has a nice pattern of waxing and waning. This results in a beautifully symmetrical trend, where we have the new moon, followed by a full moon on the fourteenth day, and again the new moon after another fourteen days and so on. So, for the ancient sky grazers, who were still thinking that the Sun goes up in the morning and goes down at night, basically circling the earth, it was a great way to track days.
How long is this trip across the mountain? Not sure exactly, but I should be back by the new moon.
Is the high tide going to be really high today? Yes, because its the full moon ( or new moon).
You see, there are patterns which are aligning perfectly with the moon’s phases.
So as civilization progressed, people across the world developed their own versions of modern calendars, based on moon.
So why the switch to Solar calendar? What has moon done wrong!!
Well, if you think about it, each lunar month has only got 29.5 days. That’s almost two days short of of the 30/31 days we have in our months. So, even though the early calendar seemed to work fine with this calendar, twelve months of 29.5 days each gets us only 354 days, which is eleven days short of the full solar year. So what, you say. Let’s see why that’s a problem.
A lot of natural phenomena on our planet earth actually depend on Sun, more than they do on the Moon. The great tilt of our planet, which is responsible for seasons, is obviously dependent on the Sun. So the entire plant kingdom and the animal kingdom, in the millions of years of evolution, have come to adapt to these seasons. It gets cold in winter, food becomes scarce, life is miserable. Then there is the spring, new life, new fruit, abundance of food. And back to autumn with cooler temperatures and then the dreaded winter. So these seasons have made our early human ancestors to expect certain weather patterns during certain parts of the year. Great, but what does that have to do with the calendar.
Well, you see, because people were following the lunar calendar, every year, they are falling off by a few days. The only thing that matters, the seasonality, which has the highest impact on humans, is being effected. Imagine, the start of summer is in the month of June this year. By the time next June comes, its not summer yet. It will be another eleven days before summer comes. The next year it will be twenty two days later. After a few years, the month of June which is the beginning of summer, is in the dead of winter. What the hell. Those few pesky days in the calendar are wreaking havoc. Farmers can’t sow their crops, can’t plan for winter and there has got to be a better way to track months and seasons.
Again, different cultures tackled this differently. My people, the ancient Indians, kinda had a solution to this. Not a perfect one, but it was helpful to an extent. What they have done was to add a month itself, every few years. Not sure of the exact logic there, but it kind of resets the calendar so that it is in sync with the seasons. The problem with this is, except for the first year, every following year will be out of sync, until the calendar resets again. So, it helps them stay with in a range of the expected seasons, but not precisely. But hey, given that they have improvised this technique almost 3000 years ago, when most of the modern civilizations haven’t even taken root yet, I think that’s a pretty good solution.
As civilizations across the world grappled with this problem, several variations of the calendar were proposed. The earliest ones was by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who by this time, switched to a calendar based on Sun. That calendar was called Julian calendar ( which also gave his name to the month of July). It was working fine but he miscalculated the year by a meager eleven minutes, but that small error was still causing the seasons to go out of sync. To rectify this, almost 1500 years after Julius Caesar, a Catholic Pope named Gregory has proposed a better calendar. Called the Gregorian calendar after its inventor, this calendar is now the standard across the world.
Even though the leap day in February was in the original Julian calendar, it was still causing an issue because it was over-correcting for the length of earth’s revolution around the Sun. So, in the newly proposed Gregorian calendar, the leap year will happen every 4 years, ( in years which are perfectly divisible by 4) but with an added clause that its not a leap year if the year is divisible by 100. Except if the year is perfectly divisible by 400, they are leap years again. All of this convoluted logic, just to keep our calendars in sync with earth’s revolution around the sun. An interesting point here, when England adapted this new calendar in the 1700s, they had to jump from September 2 to September 14, 1752 overnight. This meant, the entire country lost 12 days just like that. Its like they went to sleep on the second of September but only woke up 12 days later. That is one long sleep. The upside is their calendars now synced with the rest of the world, which has mostly adapted and has been using the Gregorian calendar.
Now comes the part about our original question. Why are the months out of sync with their numbers.
Simple, In a solar calendar widely used before the Julius Caesar changed it, there were only ten months. The first few months of that calendar have names derived from cosmic bodies, but starting at August, it was just based on the number of the months. So, August ( before it was renamed after Augustus) was the sixth month, September the seventh and so on, and December was the 10th. When Julius Caesar implemented ( pretty cool that he can decide to change the calendar system just like that) his calendar in 46BC, he also decreed to add about 67 days to the year. You notice in the picture below, that prior to that, the starting month was March, and the year ended with December.
January and February were the two new months added by Caesar. Because of these two new months, the last number part of the names of the last four months was no longer correct. Actually, even August would have had the same fate, but it was renamed August and no longer bore the name that represented the number six.
Phew, that’s pretty much the history and evolution of the calendar we use today. There is actually a lot more to it, but you can google that information yourself if you are really keen. Hope you liked the blog.
Post your comments if you have anything to add to this discussion. Thanks for reading. Ciao.