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Gregorian Calendar

Because the actual solar year (the time required for the earth to complete an orbit around the sun) was some 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than the Egyptian year (365 1/4 days) used by Julius Caesar to formulate the Julian calendar, formal dates gradually fell out of synch with the natural seasons. Though the vernal equinox, from which Easter was calculated, had been set by the first council of Nicaea at March 21st, the accumulating inaccuracy in the calendar meant that by 1582 the vernal equinox was actually falling on March 11th.

In that year, therefore, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that October 4th would simply be followed by October 15th! The seasonal year was thus restored to what it had been in 325. And to prevent another discrepancy (of 11 minutes per year), the Gregorian calendar omitted the leap day from years begining new centuries unless they were divisible by 400.

Though the system worked well, because the reform had come from Rome, Protestant England and the American colonies refused to go along. In 1752, they finally made the change, skipping ten days in September.

Although Gregory's change wrought considerable confusion in 1582(servants demanded full pay for the shortened month, people objected to 'losing' ten days of their lives), when Britain and America changed, Benjamin Franklin gave readers of his Almanack something to be grateful for:

"Be not astonished, nor look with scorn, dear reader, at such a deduction of days," he wrote, "nor regret as for the loss of so much time, but take this for your consolation, that your expenses will appear lighter and your mind be more at ease. And what an indulgence is here, for those who love their pillow to lie down in Peace on the second of this month and not perhaps awake till the morning of the fourteenth."

[The Gregorian calendar is accurate to within sixteen seconds per year.]

[The united States won gold in the shooting competition at the 1908 Olympics in London in part because the Russian team failed to show up. The Russians, it seemed, were still operating on the Julian calendar, which differed from the Gregorian by about two weeks. Russia finally converted in 1917.]

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