Dates are interesting things. Every day of the year marks the anniversary of something. For example, did you know that today, March 13, 2012, marks the 231st anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus (and no, contrary to popular misconception, it had nothing to do with his cleaning lady bending over in front of his telescope)? Or that March 13 is also designated Ear Muffs day, in honor of a man named Chester Greenwood, “a man with especially large ears”, who on March 13, 1877, patented his invention, the “Champion Ear Protector”? I am not making this up, if you don’t believe me, Google “ear muffs day”.
Dates are part of a calendar, and calendars are created to mark the number of days it takes for the earth to complete it rotation around the sun, which takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds to complete (I imagine some guy in a lab coat holding a stop watch figured this out). Note that a day is defined as the amount of time it takes the earth to turn on its axis, which averages out to 24 hours (although it seems much longer if part of those 24 hours are spent in the presence of a tax accountant). The calendar we currently use is the Gregorian Calendar, which is named for Pope Gregory XIII (I didn’t know that inventing calendars was in the Pope job description – I can see a help wanted ad in the Vatican Times: Wanted – Pope – job duties include, wearing a pointy hat, washing poor people’s feet, and creating and maintaining calendaring systems) , who invented the calendar as a way to more accurately calculate the occurrence of Easter than the previous system, the Julian Calendar (not to be confused with the Julienne Salad, which is a lunchtime dish consisting of a bed of crisp salad greens topped with strips of ham, turkey, or chicken, cheeses and garnished with tomato wedges and quartered hard boiled egg, although a Greek restaurant Waukegan, Illinois, I lunched in once served such a huge portion of Julienne Salad that I wouldn’t be surprised if its volume approximated 365 ounces). The Gregorian calendar was successful in more accurately calculating Easter, which, under the Julian calendar, was creeping closer to the beginning of February, which resulted in a lot of confusion in the observance of the sacred holiday. There were conflicts between Easter and Groundhog Day, and some thought that if Jesus saw his shadow there’d be six more weeks of winter, with others believing that a dead woodchuck would be resurrected and hide baskets of colored eggs and candy for children to find.
Pope Gregory (or Greg, as friends called him, or P.G., as really close friends called him) came up with a calendar with 12 months, 7 of which have 31 days, 4 have 30 days, and 1 having 28 days, for a total of 365 days (It would seem easier to have 5 with 31 days and 7 with 30 days, but we must take into account the vast supplies of good wine that P.G., as CEO of Vatican, Incorporated, had at his disposal, and assume that he consumed liberally). P.G. deemed the second month to be the one with 28 days, and, in order to account for the extra 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds, every four years (in years who’s number is divisible by 4) he added a day to February. There is a little known but real exception to this rule – century years (like 1800, 1900, etc.) that are NOT divisible by 400 are not leap years. This means that although the year 2000 was a leap year, the next millennium year, the year 3000, will NOT be a leap year. Because of this, I have already told my wife not to make any plans for February 29, 3000, and that I plan on sleeping in that day.
P.G. then went about naming the months, using a combination of Roman Gods (for example, January was named for the Roman God of beginnings and endings, Janus , and March was named for the God of War, Mars) and numbers (September, the ninth month, took it’s name from Septem, the Latin term for the number seven – makes sense if you believe that P.G. was hitting the wine pretty heavy by this time) for inspiration. The month July was named for the Orange Julius franchise in the Vatican City mall, of which P.G. was such a frequent customer that he was on a first name basis with the employees (which lead to scandal, as investors trying to open a rival “Chick Fil A” franchise in the mall filed charges of favoritism after they were turned down due to alleged zoning law violations.)
To further complicate time-keeping matters, starting in 1916 (or 96 complete rotations of the earth around the sun ago), the government implemented something called Daylight Savings Time. The intent of Daylight Savings Time is to advance clocks so that evenings have more sunlight and mornings have less. Thus, as we did this past weekend, in the spring, we adjust clocks ahead one hour, and in the autumn, we adjust them back an hour. The changes normally take effect on a Sunday at 2:00 A.M. In the spring, we “spring forward.” This has never caused me a problem. However, in the fall, we “fall back”, and I have tremendous difficulties, as they will say, for example, “Daylight savings time goes into effect at 2:00 AM on Sunday morning. Make sure you turn your clocks back an hour.” I stay up and wait and, when 2:00 rolls around, I turn my clocks back to 1:00, but then, an hour later, it is 2:00 again, and I turn my clocks back to 1:00, and the cycle repeats itself until, with the sun now rising in the east, I finally fall asleep, and when I wake up after eight hours, my clock says it is 9:37 A.M., but on TV they claim it is 3:37P.M., and I don’t know who to believe, until Alex Trebek comes on and I know it is 4:30 P.M.
Now that I think about it, it seems that Alex Trebek would make a pretty good Pope.