Calendar Deficiencies

It seems to me…

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt….” ~ Julius Caesar[i].

I’m not sure how many students still learn Latin in high school but assume that for those that do, the works of Julius Caesar remain required reading.

There are many faults in our current calendar system and while Julius Caesar made minor modification to the older Roman Calendar, replacing it with the Julian Calendar, he was not an egocentric megalomaniac and most likely did not actually want his name given to a month among Roman deities. Unfortunately, naming a month after him did nothing to correct obvious deficiencies in our method of tracking dates. The last opportunity to reform our calendar system actually fell to Pope Gregory XIII who also chose to not make any substantial changes.

Only a few names of months were actually derived from the names of Roman deities. Most simply came from the numbers of the months or in two cases, in honor of Roman emperors[ii]: January: named after the Roman god of beginnings and endings Janus (the month Januarius). February: the name comes either from the old-Italian god Februus or else from februa, signifying the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome during this month. March: the first month of the Roman year named after the Roman god of war: Mars. April: called Aprilis, from aperire, “to open” possible because it is the month in which the trees and flowers begin to open. May: the third month of the Roman calendar probably from Maiesta, the Roman goddess of honor and reverence. June: the fourth month was named in honor of Juno though the name also might come from iuniores (young men; juniors) as opposed to maiores (grown men; majors) for May, the two months being dedicated to young and old men. July: the month in which Julius Caesar was born and named Julius in his honor in 44 BCE, the year of his assassination. Also called Quintilis (fifth month). August: was originally called Sextilis (from sextus, “six”) but was later changed in honor of the first of the Roman emperors, Augustus (because several fortunate events of his life occurred during this month). September: from septem, “seven”. October: from octo, “eight”. November: from novem, “nine”. December: from decem, “ten”.

The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western or Christian calendar, is now the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582, a papal bull known by its opening words Inter gravissimas.

Reformers cite several problems with the Gregorian calendar:

  • It is not perennial. Each year starts on a different day of the week and calendars expire every year.
  • It is difficult to determine the weekday of any given day of the year or month.
  • Months are not equal in length nor regularly distributed across the year, requiring mnemonics (e.g. “Thirty days hath September…”) or knuckle counting (ridges are 31, valleys are 30 except first valley [February] is 28 or 29 in a leap year) to remember which month is 28, 29, 30, or 31 days long.
  • The year’s four quarters (of three full months each) are not equal (being of 90/91, 91, 92 and 92 days respectively). Business quarters that are equal would make accounting easier.
  • Its epoch (origin) is religious. The same applies to month and weekday names in many languages.
  • Each month has no connection with lunar phases.
  • A new year does not begin on the winter solstice.


Our current calendar no longer meets the needs of a modern society. Its fundamental problem is the imperfect divisibility of whole numbers into an irrational number (fitting whole days into a month; fitting whole days or whole months into a year). The physics of orbital mechanics does not phase-lock the rotation of the Earth (the day) to its revolution (the year), nor the rotation of the Earth (the day) to the revolution of the Moon (the month). Therefore any attempt to divide a month into days or a year into days will leave a fractional remainder of a partial day. Likewise, any attempt to divide a year into months will leave a fractional remainder of a partial month. Such remainders accumulate from one period to the next thereby driving the cycles out of synch.

It is hard to solve all these issues in just one calendar. Most proposals evolve around a solar year of slightly more than 365 days; a number that does not divide well by seven or twelve – the traditional numbers of days per week and months per year respectively. The nearby numbers 360, 364, and 366 are divisible in better ways. There also are lunar centric proposals.

After World War II the newly-formed United Nations continued efforts of its predecessor, the League of Nations, to establish a proposed World Calendar but postponed the issue after a veto from the U.S. government, which was mainly based upon concerns of religious groups about the proposed days that would be outside the seven day week cycle (“blank days”) and thus disrupt having a Sabbath every seven days.

Pope Gregory XIII missed his opportunity. Now, given that the U.S. is unable to even adopt the metric system, it is doubtful any proposed changes to the existing calendar could ever be approved. Still, it would seem logical to celebrate the world’s most favorite holidays; Christmas, Saturnalia (Bacchanalia?), New Year’s…; on the winter solstice.

That’s what I think, what about you?




Whether you prefer:

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, 聖誕快樂, Frohe Weihnachten, חג מולד שמח . يدميلادمجيد,メリー クリスマス, क्रिसमस मुबारक हो….


Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo, Nadolig Llawen, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Buone Feste Natalizie, Kellemes kara’csonyi u”nnepeket e’s boldog u’j e’vet, Froehliche Weihnachten und ein glueckliches Neues Jahr, God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt Ar, Kala Christouyenna, Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan, Baradin ki shubh kamnaaye, Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom, Milad Majid, Mo’adim Lesimkha, Chena tova….

 Though I cannot say it in every language, regardless of how you personally might express it, may you rejoice in the many joys of this holiday season and enjoy the very best throughout the new year.



[i] Caesar, Julius. “All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws…”, Gallic Wars Book 1 (58 B.C.E.).

[ii] Smith, Pamela. Derivation of month names taken from: What’s in a Name?,, 22 October 2006.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Calendar, Date, Gregorian, Julian, Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory XIII, Roman and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s