Unseen Passage: Calendar

The phases of the Moon last approximately one month so it was easy for ancient people to measure that length of time. However, every society needs a length of time shorter than a month but longer than a day so the week was invented.

Sunday is, obviously named after the Sun and Monday is named after the Moon. Saturday is named after Saturn. The other days of the week are named after Germanic gods. Tuesday is named after Tiw, the god of war. Wednesday is named after Woden, the chief god. Thursday is named after Thor, the god of thunder and Friday is named after the Goddess Frigg.

In 45 BC Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar with 12 months. He also added a leap year.

The Romans celebrated New Year on 1 March so the name September is derived from Latin words meaning seventh month. October was the 8th month, November was the 9th month and December was the 10th month. In England, New Year was not in January until 1752. January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. February may be named after the Roman festival of Februa. March is named after Mars the god of war. June is named after the goddess Juno and July is named after Julius Caesar. August is named after Augustus Caesar. The origin of the names of the other months is not certain. April is believed to be derived from the Latin word aperire, which means to open because buds opened at that time. May may be named after the Goddess Maia.

In 1582, Pope Gregory 13th introduced a new calendar. The calendar went forward 10 days and century years (like 1800) would no longer be leap years unless they were divisible by four. Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 but in Russia, it was not adopted until after the revolution of 1917.

In the early years of Christianity there was a dispute over the date of Easter. In 325, the Nicean Council decided it should be on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox. That is why the date of Easter changes each year. Christmas is, of course, Jesus’ birthday. However, it is very unlikely Jesus was really born on 25 December! In ancient times most pagans held some kind of mid-winter festival. Instead of abolishing the old pagan festivals the Church took them over and ‘Christianized’ them. In 354 AD 25 December was fixed as the birthday of Christ.

At the end of the 5th century a monk named Dionysius the Short introduced a new way of calculating dates. Previously dates were calculated from the foundation of Rome. Dates were now calculated from before the birth of Jesus (BC) or before Christ and in the year of Our Lord (AD or anno Domini). However, Dionysius miscalculated and Jesus was actually born in at least 4 BC.

Before the Reformation people would often record the date by writing Saint so-and-so’s day rather than writing the day of the month. Many saints days were days of rest and our word holiday is derived from holy day.

In an agricultural society life was dominated by the seasons. The old word for Spring was Lenten (related to our word lengthen because the days lengthen at that time). Later it came to mean the days before Easter and it was shortened to Lent. The word Spring was first used for this season in the 16th century.

Q. On the basis of your reading and understanding of the above passage, answer the following :

  1. September is counted as the seventh month in the Roman calendar because
  2. After which year did the people of England start celebrating New Year in January ?
  3. Who introduced the calculation of dates from before the birth of Jesus ?
  4. The date of Easter changes every year because the Nicean Council in 325 decided that Easter will be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox. (True/False).
  5. The Gregorian calendar
    1. came into being in 1583.
    2. was introduced by Pope Gregory the 12th.
    3. didn’t count century years as leap years unless they were divisible by four.
    4. was adopted by Russia before the Russian revolution.
  6. The word ‘pagan’ in para 6 means people
    1. who oppose the government.
    2. with religious beliefs other than the commonly followed.
    3. who wage wars.
    4. are highly religious.
  7. Which of the following is not true ?
    1. Days are named after the Germanic gods.
    2. Jesus was not really born on 25 December.
    3. ‘Holiday’ means a day of rest because it was derived from the combination of the word ‘holy’ and the fact that people referred to saint days to record days and most of the saint days were days of rest.
    4. all of the above
  8. The word ‘foundation’ in para 7 can be replaced by the word
    1. base
    2. establishment
    3. organisation
    4. incorporation


  1. March was the first month for them.
  2. 1752
  3. Dionysius the Short.
  4. True
  5. didn’t count century years as leap years unless they were divisible by four.
  6. with religious beliefs other than the commonly followed.
  7. all of the above
  8. establishment

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