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Final Answers
© 2000-2023   Gérard P. Michon, Ph.D.


I've been on a calendar,
but I've never been on time
 Marilyn Monroe  (1926-1962).

Articles previously on this page:


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Related Links (Outside this Site)

Calendrica (Conversion Applet)   |   Today's Calendar and Clock Page
Religious Calendars   |   New Year Celebrations Galore   |   1751 = 282 days
Equation of Time   |   Time Systems   |   Time   |   Time Scales  by  Steve Allen
Historical Values of Delta T  by  Fred Espenak  (NASA).
Time by David Madore   |   Epochs and Eras   |   Milestones in Solar Astronomy
The Metonic Cycle and the Saros   |   Calendars trhough the Ages
Calendars in Singapore by Helmer Aslaksen
Mything Links  by Kathleen Jenks   |   Calendars  by Bill Hollon.
The Calendar Zone  by Janice McLean   |   Calendars  by L. E. Doggett.
Claus Tøndering's FAQ   |   The Christian Calendar  by Claus Tøndering.
Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Passover  (Conway's rules)  by William H. Jefferys.

Putative Calendars :

Dating creation  (Wikipedia)
Mayan EasterEnoch Calendar  by John P. Pratt
God's Calendar  by  Wade Cox  (Christian Churches of God, 1996-2000).
Bible Exposed  by  John Howard  (thatch343)
Le calendrier milésien  by  Louis-Aimé de Fouquières  (Miletus SARL).

Solar Eclipses and the Cosmic Coincidence of the Saros Cycle  by  Matt Parker.


Chronology & Calendars

Before universal calendars became dominant, dates were recorded with respect to the beginnings of reigns.  Recovering a global chronology from such records is a major source of headaches for historians, who may need the help of classic works like "L'Art de vérifier les dates des faits historiques" ("On the Art of Verifying the Dates of Historical Events", first published by the Benedictines in 1750).

Here's how to express the 89th day of the year 1956 (CE) in various calendars.  Note the "double dating" [sic] in the Julian calendar between January 1 and March 24, due to the fact that the New Year "Old Style" (O.S.) started on March 25.

  • International ISO 8601 format:   1956-03-29
  • ISO Week Date:   1956-W13-3   (Thursday, week 13, 1956).
  • Gregorian:   Thursday, March 29, 1956 CE (= Common Era).
  • Julian:   Thursday, March 16, 1955/1956 AD (= Anno Domini).
  • Julian (Roman style):   A.D. XVII KAL. APR. MMDCCIX A.U.C.
  • French revolutionary:   9 Germinal, an 164 (Nonidi, Décade I).
  • Coptic:   Ptiou, 20 Paremhat, 1672 AM (= Anno Martyrum).
  • Hebrew (until sunset):   Yom hamishi, 17 Nisan, 5716 AM (Anno Mundi).
  • Islamic (til sunset):   Yaum al-hamis, 16 Sha'ban, 1375 AH (Anno Hegirae)
  • Julian Day (at noon):   2435562 JD.
  • Modified Julian Day Number (since midnight):   35561 MJDN.
  • Mayan (since sunrise):   7 Cumku 5 Cauac (Long Count:

Modern Calendrical Ratios

Precise astronomical formulas have been devised at the  Bureau des Longitudes  (Paris, France)  which give the number of days in a synodic lunar month or in a tropical year.  (Those are valid for millenia  but would fail over geological periods.)  Let's quote the lunar model of Michelle Chapront-Touzé & Jean Chapront  (1988)  and the orbital elements of  Jacques Laskar (1986) :

month/day   =   29.5305888531 + 0.00000021621 T - 3.64E-10 T2
year/day   =   365.2421896698 - 0.00000615359 T - 7.29E-10 T2 + 2.64E-10 T3

In both formulas,  T  is the time expressed as the number of Julian centuries of 3652425 "atomic" days  (i.e., 3155760000 s )  elapsed since 2000.0.

Those are just  mean  values:  The actual number of days between consecutive new moons may differ from the above by as much as 0.3  (i.e., 7 hours).  The above average number of days in a tropical year may differ by several minutes from the actual number of days observed from one vernal equinox to the next.

Ocean tides provide a braking mechanism which slows down the rotation of the Earth about its axis, thereby increasing the duration of the day.  Total angular momentum is a conserved quantity.  So what's lost in the spin of the Earth goes  (mainly)  to the orbital angular momentun of the Moon around the Earth.  A lesser transfer of angular momentum affects the orbital motion of the Earth around the Sun.  Those two effects contribute, respectively, to an increase in the absolute durations of the month and the year.

By itself, tidal braking would increase the length of a day at a rate of  2.3 ms  per century.  However, observed historical eclipses show the actual increase to be only  1.7 ms per century.

The difference  (i.e.,  an additional  decrease  of 0.6 ms per century)  has been attributed to a reduction in the oblateness of the Earth since the last  ice age.  There may be a periodic oscillation in the shape of the Earth, in addition to its secular  (irrevocable)  decay.

As the Earth spins less rapidly, its buldge at the equator must be reduced.  Indeed, it's been observed that, in the main, major earthquakes tend to redistribute mass so as to reduce the equatorial buldge.

The sands of time and tidal friction  by  Leslie V. Morrison and F. Richard Stephenson   (1998)

(2002-12-30)   JD = Julian Day [Number] & Absolute Time
Counting days and converting days to absolute time...

From a scientific perspective, a calendar is not about measuring time, it's about counting actual solar days.  No amount of averaging will ever be able to equate the two concepts over long periods of time, because the rotation of the Earth on its own axis is steadily slowing down (due to tidal braking):  The average length of a day currently increases by about 2.3 milliseconds per century.  This observation is a fairly recent discovery which affects the continuing accuracy of any calendar whose structure is based on some definite value of the solar year and/or the lunar month expressed in actual days.  (The scientific day unit of precisely 86400 atomic SI seconds is not directly relevant to calendars.)

This flaw is not present in the Julian Day numbering scheme, arguably the simplest of all calendars, because no attempt is made at counting anything but days (not years,  not months, just days).  However, the lengthening of the astronomical day may not be neglected when absolute time differences (in atomic seconds) are to be obtained from calendar dates, in this or any other calendar.

The following definition of the Julian Day Number (JDN) has been given in 1997 by the 23rd International Astronomical Union General Assembly:

The Julian day number associated with the solar day is the number assigned to a day in a continuous count of days beginning with the Julian day number 0 assigned to the day starting at Greenwich mean noon on 1 January 4713 BC, Julian proleptic calendar -4712.

The JDN is thus a proper calendar, a well-defined method for counting days, fully specified by the JDN assigned to some specific day in a known calendar.  It's closely related to the Julian Date (JD), which is a continuous measure of time obtained by adding to the JDN the fraction of a day elapsed since noon GMT.

When it's more convenient to have days start at midnight (GMT), it's best to use the so-called Modified Julian Date (MJD) which is equal to the Julian Date minus 2400 000.5.  In other words, the Modified Julian Date is the number of solar days elapsed since midnight  (0:00 UTC)  on Wednesday November 17, 1858  (JD = 2400000.5, JDN=2400000).

This numbering scheme was invented around 1583, in the wake of the Gregorian reform, by Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609).  Scaliger put the origin in 4713 BC because this year predates all our recorded history and can be construed as a common beginning to the following three noteworthy cycles  (which repeat after 7980 years).

  • The 28 year cycle of the Julian calendar.
    The pattern of weekdays and leap years repeat after a 28 years in the Julian Calendar (it's 400 years with the modern Gregorian calendar). 
  • The 19 year Metonic cycle.
    19 tropical years (about 6939.602 days) are only two hours short of 235 lunar months (about 6939.688 days).  For any reasonably accurate solar calendar, a given phase of the Moon will thus occur [nearly] at the same calendar date after a period of 19 years.  Conversely, if we use a perfect  lunar  calendar and estimate the solar year to be 235/19 lunar months, we'll drift away from the solar seasons at a rate of less than half a day per century  (that's how the Jewish calendar is built). 
  • The 15 year Roman indiction cycle.
    This tax cycle was only abolished in 1806.  It had been introduced on September 1, 312, by Constantine the Great (c.274-337), the founder of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and the first Roman emperor to become a Christian (baptized on his deathbed).  The indiction number was used as a calendrical era (e.g., "third year of the fourth indiction").

The lowest common multiple of these is a period of 7980 years, which is known as Scaliger's Julian period.  Scaliger reportedly named the thing after his late father (Julius Caesar Scaliger, 1484-1558), so the etymological connection with the Julian calendar (named after emperor Julius Caesar) is an indirect one.

Counting Seconds:

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

GPS time   |   Leap Seconds   |   Julian Date

(2003-01-21)   The 7-Day Week and its Ancestors
The fundamental social cycle has not always been a week of 7 days.

Second only to the natural daily rythm, a regular man-made cycle of 4 to 10 days has always governed human activity everywhere, throughout recorded history (and probably well before that).  This period has not always been the familiar week of 7 days, though.  Here are some examples:

NameDaysWhen / What CircumstancesWho / Where
Week7AntiquityJews, Persians
Nundinus 8Antiquity,  Roman republicEtruscans, Romans
 7Since 1st Cent. AD / Persian Astrology
Since AD 321 (officially) / Christianity
Roman Empire
 9Until 1385 (officially)Pagan Lithuania
Décade101793-10-24 to 1806-01-01France
 51929 to 1931Soviet
61931-09-01 to 1940-06-26
Week7Modern TimesWorldwide
Number CelestialFrenchEnglishNorse
0SunDimanche (Lord's day)Sunday 
1Moon, LuneLundiMonday 
2MarsMardiTuesdayTiw's day
3MercuryMercrediWednesdayWoden's day
4JupiterJeudiThursdayThor's day
5VenusVendrediFridayFreya's day

Our seven-day week   |   Seven Day week   |   The week   |   360-day artifact   |   Days of the Week
The Doomsday Algorithmk (14:33) by  James Grime  (Numberphile, 2021-10-31).

Eye of HorusEye of Ra (2002-12-29)   Egyptian Calendar & Calendar Creep
This solar calendar paved the road for its successors.

When Moses was alive, these pyramids were a thousand years old.  Here began the history of architecture.  Here, people learned to measure time by a calendar, to plot the stars by astronomy and chart the Earth by geometry.  Here, they developed that most awesome of all ideas—the idea of eternity.
Walter Cronkite  (1916-)  CBS evening news (1962-1981).

The ancient Egyptian civilization lasted longer than any other.  It had a solar calendar whose year consisted of 12 months of 30 days (3 decans of 10 days each) and 5 additional "yearly days" (epagomenes), for a total of 365 days.

The myth was that Nut, goddess of the Sky, was separated from her lover Geb, god of the Earth, and cursed with barrenness:  She could not give birth in "any month of the year".  Thoth, moon-god of time and measure, decided to help Nut and Geb.  In a game of dice with the reigning gods, he won 5 extra days not belonging to any particular month, which Nut used to produce 5 children, including Isis and Osiris.

Egyptian astronomers knew that a period of 365 days was about ¼ day short of an actual tropical year, but an intercalary day was never added, and the calendar was allowed to drift through the seasons.

A drift of a fixed calendar date through the seasons is a flaw of a solar calendar called calendar creep.  The Egyptian calendar had a severe case of this, but it was originally designed to match the 3 seasons of the Nile (4 months each):

  • Akhet :   "Inundation".
  • Proyet, Peret, or Poret :   "Emergence", "Winter", or "Growing Season".
  • Shomu or Shemu :   "Harvest", "Summer", or "Low Water".

Although the Egyptian months have specific names (tabulated below, in our discussion of the modern Coptic calendar), they are commonly denoted by their ranks within those fictitious calendar "seasons", whose own names are either transliterated or translated:  Third month of Akhet, first month of Harvest, etc.

The astronomical event which was once observed to mark the beginning of the actual  Inundation (as opposed to the calendrical one) was the so-called heliacal rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.  This is to say that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises with the Sun at that time of year still known as the Dog Days of Summer (Sirius belongs to the "Great Dog" constellation, Canis Major).

1461 Egyptian years are equal to 1460 years of 365¼ days (the length of what would become the Julian year).  This period of 533265 days has been dubbed a Sothic period, because Sothis is the Greek name of Sirius, called Sopdet [spdt] by the Egyptians.  The Egyptian civilization lived through several such cycles...  (It has been reported that ancient Egyptians also had another "sacred" calendar based on a year of 365¼ days, but we found no evidence to support this claim.)

A period of 533265 days doesn't  quite  bring the Egyptian calendar back to the same point in the  actual  cycle of the seasons, because a  tropical  year isn't exactly equal to 365.25 days:  It's more like 365.2422 days, which would imply a period of 1508 Egyptian years (1507 tropical years) between successive returns of the Egyptian calendar to the same seasonal point.

However, the braking effect of the tides continuously increases the length of the day (whereas the duration of any flavor of astronomical year is much steadier).  Longer days mean fewer days in a year; the number of days in a year decreases with time, and it was thus greater in the past than now:  In 3000 BC, the  tropical year  was about 365.24265 days, which would roughly reduce the  ancient  value of the above cycle down to 1505 Egyptian years  (1504 tropical years).

The Egyptian Calendar System   |   The Egyptian Calendar   |   History of the Egyptian Calendar
Sun, Moon, and Sothis   |   Ancient Egyptian Calendars   |   Out Of Timelessness
Hieroglyphs: Numbers & Dates   |   Akhet = Inundation vs. Akhet = Eclipse or Horizon
Egyptian Astrology

(2003-01-12)   Heliacal Rising of Sirius
"Sirius is the one consecrated to Isis, for it brings the water." --Plutarch

A heliacal rising of a star is defined as its appearance above the horizon just before sunrise.  In ancient times, the Egyptians observed that the heliacal rising of Sirius marked the yearly beginning of the Nile's floods.

Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the inundations of the Nile were a yearly phenomenon, caused by the summer rains over the Ethiopian highlands, which are drained by 2 of the 3 major tributaries of the Nile, the Blue Nile and the Black Nile.  The Blue Nile (Gihon) flows from lake Tana and joins the White Nile at Khartoum to form the Nile proper, whereas the Black Nile (Atbarah or Atbara) is the only tributary of the Nile after Khartoum.  The Black Nile is dry for most of the year, but in a few short months it provides over 20% of the Nile's total yearly volume of water, loaded with about 11 million tons of this black mud which once made Egypt fertile, but is now settling in Lake Nasser, behind the Aswan Dam.  The White Nile carries only half the total flow of the Blue Nile but it's much more regular.  It flows from Lake Victoria, under a succession of names.  The Kagera River flows into Lake Victoria, and has an upper branch, the Ruvyironza River of Burundi, whose source is now considered to be the ultimate source of the Nile.

The exact day when an heliacal rising is observed may depend on the longitude and latitude of the observer.  The altitude is somewhat relevant too (on the equator, a star rising due east would be seen from a 100 m cliff about 76.8 s earlier than from the beach).  The brightness of the star is important as well, since fainter objects disappear earlier at dawn.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Biblical Chronology   |   Sothic Dating   |   The Mysteries of Sirius
Keeping Track of Time in Ancient Egypt

(2003-01-06)   Alexandrian Calendar & Coptic Calendar

To avoid most of the calendar creep described above, a reform of the Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III  (Decree of Canopus, in 238 BC) which consisted in the intercalation of a 6th epagomenal day every fourth year.  However, the reform was opposed by priests, and the idea was discarded until 25 BC or so, when Roman emperor Augustus formally reformed the calendar of Egypt to keep it forever synchronized with the newly introduced Julian calendar.  To distinguish it from the ancient Egyptian calendar, which remained in use by some astronomers until medieval times, this reformed calendar is known as the Alexandrian calendar and it's the basis for the religious Coptic calendar, which the Copts [the Christians from Egypt] are still using now.

 Crux Ansata 
 Ansate The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded by St. Mark, author of the earliest Gospel and first Patriarch of the Coptic Church.  Saint Mark died a martyr, dragged with a rope around his neck through the streets of Alexandria, on Sunday May 8, AD 68.  The word Copt was originally synonymous with Egyptian, but it's now used to designate either a member of the Coptic Christian Church, or a person whose ancestry is from pre-Islamic Egypt.

Coptic years are counted from AD 284, the era of the Coptic martyrs, the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor (his reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians).  The Coptic year is identified by the abbreviation "AM" (for Anno Martyrum) which is unfortunately also used for the unrelated Jewish year (Anno Mundi).  To obtain the Coptic year number, subtract from the Julian year number either 283 (before the Julian new year) or 284 (after it).

The table below shows the correspondence between the Coptic calendar and the Julian calendar.  For the period between 1901 and 2099 CE, the secular (Gregorian) date is obtained by adding 13 days to the Julian day shown in the table, so that the Coptic year actually starts on September 11, on most years.  The 7 months which precede the intercalation of a Julian February 29 actually start one day later (this is what the " + " signs in the table are reminders for).  Therefore, the Coptic year which starts just before a Julian leap year begins on August 30 in the Julian calendar, which corresponds to September 12 in the Gregorian calendar (every fourth year, from 1903 to 2095 CE).

For the usual Gregorian secular date between 1901 and 2099 CE, add 13 days to the Julian date shown (the 7 months before a Julian Feb. 29 start 1 day later).
DaysCoptic Month (Egyptian Name)First Day (Julian) Nile Season
130Thoth, Thot, Thout, ThuthyAugust 29+ Inundation
230Paophi, Paapi, PaopySeptember 28+
330Athyr, Hathor, Hathys, AthorOctober 28+
430Cohiac, Kiahk, Koiahk, Kiak, Choiach November 27+
530Tybi, Tobi, TybyDecember 27+ Emergence
Peret, Poret

630Mesir, Mechir, Menchir, MekhirJanuary 26+
730Phamenoth, Paremhat, FamenothFebruary 25+
830Pharmouthi, Paremoude, ParmuthyMarch 27
930Pachons, PakhonsApril 26 Summer
"Low Water"

1030Payni, Paoni, PaonyMay 26
1130Epiphi, Epip, Epipy, EpepJune 25
1230Mesori, MesoreJuly 25
135 or 6Epagomena, Little MonthAugust 24

Conversion between Coptic and Julian dates   |   Coptic Orthodox Calendar   |   Coptic Calendar

(2002-12-22)   The Julian Calendar & Leap Years

The Julian calendar is still being used for religious purposes by some Eastern Orthodox churches, such as the Russian Orthodox church.  Julius 

An early form of the Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, on the advice of the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes.  Officially, the first day of the Julian Calendar was the Kalends of Januarius, 709 AUC (January 1, 45 BC).  At first, there was a leap year every third year, but this was soon recognized to be a mistake:  In 8 BC, the calendrical reform of Augustus gave the months their modern names and lengths, and returned the calendar year back to the seasonal point intended by Julius Caesar.  This was done by shunning leap years until AD 8, which would be a leap year like every fourth year thereafter.  (5 BC, 1 BC and AD 4 were ordinary years.)

Historical Leap Years (before the Regular Julian Pattern)
For  AD 4,  this interpretation of reports from Macrobius and others is disputed by some scholars.
The so-called proleptic Julian Calendar extends backward in time the regular pattern which has been in force since March of AD 4.  This may mean a discrepancy of several days from the historical calendar used between 45 BC and AD 4 and it's all but fictitious before that...
Yet, the proleptic Julian calendar is now universally used to record the dates of ancient astronomical events,  including  28 May 585 BC  the probable day of a total eclipse predicted by  Thales  (the earliest such prediction on record).  That  omen  may have helped put an end to a six-year war but little credence should be given to the popular interpretation of a report by  Herodotus  (itself written more than one century after the facts)  that a solar eclipse  literally  interrupted the  final battle.
The Julian Calendar, before and after Augustus
45 BC to 8 BCAfter 8 BC
DaysMonth DaysMonth
II29 or 30Februarius28 or 29Februarius
VII31Quintilis / Iulius31Iulius

New Year's Day

Julius Caesar made the year start on January 1,  probably because this was the traditional beginning of the session in the Roman Senate (and the date when consuls used to be elected).  However, it seems that the popular use of the previous "March 1" system survived at least until the Augustan Age (27 BC-AD 14).  The "January 1" convention was not finally established (or restored) until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

March 1 used to be the beginning of the Roman year (it was the date when the elected consuls actually took office).  This explains the names of the months of September, October, November and December, which used to be the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months of the year.  In 153 BC, the Roman Senate had voted to have the new year coincide with the beginning of its own session, on January 1, but old habits kept prevailing among the people.  In the final(?) transition to the Julian year beginning on January 1, the abnormal duration of the year 46 BC (the so-called "year of confusion") should have helped, but apparently didn't...  The year 46 BC lasted 445 days from January to December, and March 1 of 46 BC was nearly at the same seasonal point as January 1 of 45 BC.

The most common convention in late medieval times was that the beginning of a new Julian year occurred on March 25.  This was the nominal date of the vernal equinox (it was the actual date of the equinox shortly before the calendar reform of Julius Caesar).  In medieval times, March 25 was thought of as the mythical anniversary of Creation.  For Christians, this is the Feast of the Annunciation, the Incarnation when Christ was conceived  (the alternate name Lady Day has a pagan origin, rooted in the Celtic tradition).  However, the Julian New Year has been celebrated at a variety of dates throughout history.  The following sketchy table is only meant to show the utter lack of universal conventions:

When does a calendar year start?  (sketchy data)
New Year's DayWhenWho / where
March 1Until 222 BC (?)Rome
March 15222 BC - 153 BC (?)
January 1Since 153 BC (and 45 BC)
March 25Middle Ages
March 1Until 800France
March 25800 to 996
(See note below)
996 to 1566
"more Gallicano"
January 1Since 1567 (or 1563)
November 1Until AD 1179Celts
December 257th Century thru 1338England
March 25Late Middle AgesEurope
March 1Until 1797Venice
September 114th century thru 1918Russia
January 1Gregorian reformWorldwide

Note :  When Easter was taken as the beginning of the year, there could be two days with the same date, at the beginning and at the end of some years.  The ambiguity used to be lifted by specifying "after Easter" of "before Easter".

Days of the Month:

The Roman way of numbering days was used in Latin with the Julian calendar, until the late Middle Ages.  Three  special  days were singled out:

  • The Kalends:  First day of the month.   [Etymology of "calendar"]
  • The Nones:  The 7th day of March, May, July, and October.
    The 5th day of the other months  (i.e., always the  ninth day  of the Ides).
  • The Ides:  The 15th day of March, May, July, and October.
    The 13th day of the other months.

The other days were counted backwards and inclusively, from the next such special day.  Thus, since March 13 was two days before the Ides of March, it was called the third day of the Ides of March.  Most of the month came after the Ides and was thus referred to the Kalends of the next month.  In a leap year, the intercalary day was inserted after February 23 (the seventh day of the Kalends of March) so there would be a day designated as bissextilis, being the "other sixth" day of the Kalends of March...  Leap years are thus still called bissextile.

The Orthodox Ecclesiastical Calendar   |   Gregorian/Julian Calendar Information
Changes in New Year's Day   |   Early Julian Calendar   |   Render unto Caesar   |   Julian Calendar

(2002-12-31)   AD = Anno Domini   [CE = Common Era]

Dionysius Exiguus was a Russian monk who had been commissioned by pope St. John I  to work on calendrical matters, including the official computation of the date of Easter.  The story goes that he was confronted with the Coptic calendar in the course of his work with Alexandrian data.  He liked the idea of a continuous count of years based on a Christian milestone, but was disturbed by the choice of the Copts, who were honoring their greatest persecutor by counting from the year Diocletian became emperor (284 CE).  Dionysius had the idea to count years from a joyous event instead, the birth of Christ.  In 527, he formally declared that Jesus was born on December 25 in the year 753 AUC, equating the year 754 AUC with the year AD 1  (Anno Domini = Year of the Lord).

The guess of Dionysius may have been off by several years:  Jesus was born during the census of Augustus (Luke 2:1) while Quirinius was governing Syria (Luke 2:2), under the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1).  In 1583, Scaliger argued that Herod died in 750 AUC (4 BC), so Jesus was born at least 4 years earlier than Dionysius thought.  We don't know how Dionysius arrived at his result, but we may venture the guess that he simply took the Gospel of Luke literally...

Jesus Himself began His ministry at about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23) after begin baptized by John, who began preaching in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1).  As Tiberius became emperor in AD 14, the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was baptized in AD 29 or AD 30, when he was about 30 (he may have been 34 or so).

The original task of Dionysius was to prepare a table giving the dates of Easter starting with AD 532.  In the Julian calendar, such a table has a periodicity of 532 years, so that it was tempting to place the birth of Christ at the beginning of the previous cycle.  Either that or Dionysius guessed the birth of Christ first, by some other argument, and then chose to have his tables start with the second cycle.

The numbering scheme suggested by Dionysius may not have been popular until the time of the calendrical studies of Bede (673-735) in Britain.

The Date of Christmas

Incidentally, this calendrical focus on the nativity of Jesus turned Christmas into a major Christian festival, rivaling Easter.  The birth of Christ was hardly celebrated at all by early Christians, and different communities did so on different dates...  The choice of December 25 had been proposed by anti-pope Saint Hippolytus of Rome (170-236), but it was apparently not accepted until AD 336 or 364.  Dionysius emphatically quoted mystical justifications for this very choice:

March 25 was considered to be the anniversary of Creation itself.  It was the first day of the year in the medieval Julian Calendar and the nominal vernal equinox  (it had been the actual equinox at the time when the Julian calendar was originally designed).  Considering that Christ was conceived at that date turned March 25 into the Feast of the Annunciation which had to be followed, 9 months later, by the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas, on December 25...

There may have been more practical considerations for choosing December 25.  The choice would help substitute a major Christian holiday for the popular pagan celebrations around the winter solstice (Roman Saturnalia or Brumalia).  The religious competition was fierce.  In 274, Emperor Aurelian had declared a civil holiday on December 25  (Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun)  to celebrate the birth of Mithras, the Persian Sun-God whose cult predated Zoroastrianism and was then very popular among the Roman military...  Finally, joyous festivals are needed at that time of year, to fight the natural gloom of the season.  The Jews have Hanukkah, an eight-day festival beginning on the on the 25th day of Kislev.

Whatever the actual reasons were for choosing a December 25 celebration, the scriptures indicate that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth did not even take place around that time of year, since there were in the same country sherperds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night (Luke 2:8).  During cold months, shepherds brought their flocks into corals and did not sleep in the fields.  That's about all we know directly from scriptures, besides wild speculations.

Calendar History   |   The Bible's story of Christmas

(2002-12-22)   The Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian calendar is like the above Julian calendar, except for its pattern of leap years.  Its Christian origins are all but forgotten, as it has now been adopted as a secular calendar by most modern nations.  A few countries are still officially using other traditional and/or religious calendars, but they all have to accomodate the Gregorian calendar, at least in an International context...
 Gregory XIII

This calendar has been dubbed Gregorian because it was introduced under the authority of pope Gregory XIII, né Ugo Boncompagni (1502-1585), Pope from 1572 to 1585.  The Gregorian calendrical reform was engineered by astronomer Christopher Clavius to make the seasons correspond permanently to what they were under the Julian calendar in AD 325, at the time of the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, the First Council of Nicea, when rules were adopted for the date of Easter.

The precise rules are rather involved, but Easter is usually the first Sunday after a full moon occurring no sooner than March 21, which was the actual date of the vernal equinox at the time of the First Council of Nicea.  Shortly before Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, the vernal equinox was occurring on the "nominal" date of March 25.  This was rightly discarded at Nicea, but the reason for the observed discrepancy was all but ignored (the actual tropical year is not quite equal to the Julian year of 365¼ days, so the date of the equinox keeps creeping back in the Julian calendar).  The Gregorian reform ensured that, for many centuries to come, the vernal equinox would occur around March 21 just like it did at the time of the Council of Nicea, so order would be restored to the computation of Easter...

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had previously urged Pope Paul III to reform the calendar, and Clavius was one of several scientists who had been approached in the wake of that resolution.  Over 20 years later, Gregory XIII finally asked Clavius to lead a commission on the subject, which would be formally presided by Cardinal Guglielmo Sirleto (1514-1585), a contender for the papacy.

Building on the work of Luigi Lilio, this commission recommended dropping 10 calendar days immediately, and reducing the number of future leap years (to avoid a new drift of the calendar with respect to the seasons).  Thus, a Papal Bull (Inter Gravissimas) decreed that, October 4, 1582 would be followed by October 15.  Furthermore, future leap years would be multiples of 4 (as in the Julian calendar) except for years evenly divisible by 100 but not by 400 (so that 1600 and 2000 were indeed leap years).  For each  Gregorian period  of 400 years, This reduces the number of leap years to 97 (down from 100 in the Julian scheme).  Thus:

400 Gregorian years  =  146097 days  (303´365 + 97´366)  =  20871 weeks

Interestingly, Inter Gravissimas was signed on February 24, 1582, although it bears a date of 1581 because the official year number used to change on March 25 before this very reform was enacted.
      Note also that Saint Teresa of Avila passed away in the night from Thursday October 4 to Friday, October 15, 1582.

Various countries adopted the "new" calendar only much later (see table below).  In particular, the earliest valid Gregorian date in England (and its American Colonies) is September 14, 1752, which followed September 2, 1752  (the difference between the two calendars had grown from 10 to 11 days by then, since 1700 wasn't a leap year in the Gregorian calendar).

Some Official Transitions to the Gregorian Calendar
CountryLast Julian DateThe Next Day ...
Italy, Poland, Portugal, SpainOctober 4, 1582October 15, 1582
France, LotharingiaDecember 9, 1582December 20, 1582
Luxembourg December 14, 1582December 25, 1582
Holland, Brabant, FlandersDecember 21, 1582January 1, 1583
Austria, BohemiaJanuary 6, 1584January 17, 1584
Hungary (popular use since 1584)October 21, 1587November 1, 1587
Denmark, NorwayFebruary 18, 1700March 1, 1700
Cities:  Pisa, Florence, Venice(?)December 20, 1750January 1, 1751
England & British dominionsSeptember 2, 1752Sept. 14, 1752
Sweden (1700-1712: Julian+1)February 17, 1753March 1, 1753
Japan[ Japanese calendar ]January 1, 1873
Alaska [crossed date line!]October 6, 1867October 18, 1867
China[ Chinese calendar ]January 1, 1912
Soviet UnionJanuary 31, 1918February 14, 1918
GreeceFebruary 15, 1923March 1, 1923
Romania (in use since 1919)September 30, 1924October 14, 1924
Saudi Arabia [ End of AH 1437 ]October 3, 2016

On 4 October 2016, Google celebrated, one day ahead, the passing of 434 Gregrorian years, using the "Doodle" below, in a few selected countries:

 Gregorian Calendar

Gregorian Calendar   |   The Gregorian Calendar   |   Calendopaedia
Adoption of the Gregorian Calendar   |   When they adopted the modern calendar

(2007-05-26)   Counting the days between two Gregorian dates
How to go back and forth between a Gregorian date and a straight count.

We present a way to go from a count of days to a Gregorian date and vice-versa, using only simple arithmetic formulas.  This makes it easy to determine how many days there are between two distant dates.

Making Mincemeat of Monthly Irregularities :

The key trick to deal with the not-so-regular pattern of varying numbers of day per month is to  pretend  that the year starts on March 1  (as it did when the months got their current Latin names).  This makes it possible to work out the following simple formula, which I designed back in July 1978.

Counting Days and/or Months from the previous March 1st
Mar.Apr.MayJuneJulyAug. Sep.Oct.Nov.Dec.Jan.Feb.
m 012345 67891011
 Nm  0316192122153184 214245275306337
Day  N  corresponds to month number   m  =  floor ( (N+0.5) / 30.6 ).
Conversely, the first day of month  m  is   Nm  =  ceiling ( 30.6 m - 0.5 ).

For the record, here's a full analysis which determines exactly how far one can wander away from the values 30.6 and 0.5 which appear in the above formulas  (In 1978, I wanted to obtain safe  binary  fixed-point values.)

If N is the number of days (from 0 to 365) elapsed since the previous March 1, we want the number of months elapsed (0 to 11) to be  floor ((N+y)/x).

The result will be correct for March if an N from 0 to 30 gives a result of 0, which means that (N+y)/x is between 0 (included) and 1 (excluded) when N is between 0 and 30.  This is true if and only if y is 0 or more and 30+y is less than x.  With similar constraints for the other months, we have a total of 24 inequalities to satisfy.  However, only 4 (or 5) of those are "critical", as they define the inside of a small quadrilateral in the (x,y) plane where all 24 inequalities are satisfied.  (The fifth "critical" inequality is  y < 6x-183.  It corresponds to the last day of August.  Its constraining line grazes the following  convex  solution quadrilateral  at corner B.)

 domain of 
 acceptable parameters

Upper boundary (excluded):
y < x - 30   (last day of March)   AB
y < 11x - 336   (last day of January)   BC
Lower boundary (included):
y ≥ 4x - 122   (first day of July)   CD
y ≥ 9x - 275   (first day of December)   DA

A = (30.625, 0.625)     B = (30.6, 0.6)
C =  ( 30 4/7 , 2/7 )     D = (30.6, 0.4)

Corners A, B and C are excluded.  The point D is included, so the value  y = 0.4  is barely acceptable with  x = 30.6.  The  best decimal value  is, of course, the middle of BD, namely:   x = 30.6   and   y = 0.5.  For low-level binary routines (my original concern, in 1978)  we may retain  y = 0.5  and use any value of  x  between 673/22 = 30.59090909... and 551/18 = 30.611111...  This is the interval represented by the red line in the above diagram.  In binary numeration:

11110.10010111010001011101000...  At least.
11110.10011100011100011100011...  At most.
11110.10011  (hex 3d3) is thus the coarsest usable value.

(In other words, we may use  30+19/32  = 30.59375  instead of  30.6.)
With  y = 0.5,  1/x should be between 18/551 and 22/673.  In binary, this is:

0.000010000101110011101100...     At least.
0.000010000101111001010101...     At most.
      10000101111   is the coarsest usable binary value.

If we multiply that 11-bit integer (42F in hexadecimal) by one plus twice the number of days, we obtain the month number by discarding the lower 16 bits of the product.  So, the following piece of 68000 assembly language turns a number of days  (0 to 365)  from the lower 16-bit word of D0 (a 32-bit register) into the corresponding  0-11  month number  (the other half of D0 becomes junk).

E340       N2MONTH  ASL.W   #1,D0     Multiply by 2
5240                ADDQ.W  #1,D0     Add 1 (i.e., add 0.5)
C0FC 042F           MULU.W  #$42F,D0  Multiply by 1/30.6
4840                SWAP    D0        Get integer result

Conversely, if the lower half of D0 contains a month number (0 to 11) we may obtain the day number (0 to 337) of the first day of that month, using the code:

C0FC 03D3  MONTH2N  MULU.W  #$3D3,D0  Multiply by 30.6
0640 0010           ADDI.W  #$10,D0   Add 0.5 (= 1.0 - 0.5)
EA48                LSR.W   #5,D0     Get integer result

If I may say so, I'm proud of my younger self for pioneering this, almost 30 years ago (time flies).  I just had a nice time retracing my own footsteps, as my 1978 notes are lost  (I did remember the quadrilateral's shape and the 30.6 value).  Halmos

Complete Conversion Algorithms :

With the issue of months out of the way, other Gregorian calendrical computations are straightforward if we consistently put exceptions at the  end of their respective periods, just like we put February at the end of each year in the above...  A leap year (366 days) is at the end of an olympiad of 1461 days.  A short olympiad of 1460 days (no leap year) is at the end of a normal century (36524 days).  A long century (36525 days = Julian century) is at the end of each Gregorian period of 400 years (exactly 146097 days).

With those conventions, everything falls into place if we start counting days from what would have been the Gregorian date March 1 of year 0,  if  the Gregorian scheme had been in place back then  (in the proleptic Julian calendar actually used for that period of history, "year 0" is called "1 BC" or "1 BCE").  Because of our original trick  (which made it so easy to count months within a year)  we merely have to increment the year for the months of January and February so they belong to the same year as the following month of March, as is the modern usage.  That's all there is to it!

The Modified Julian Day Number  is 0 for November 17, 1858  which came  678881 days  after the above  arithmetically convenient  origin.  Therefore, we'll use that offset in an actual implementation which turns our counting of days into straight conversions to and from MJDN dating.

 Gregorian date, as a TI-92 function. 
 NOT valid for early Julian dates !

The screenshot at right shows how this can be implemented on an handheld calculator, like the TI-92, TI-89 or  Voyage 200  from Texas Instruments.  The  gdate  function takes an integer (although it also allows fractional numbers) interpreted as MJDN  and returns the corresponding Gregorian date in the format used by the calculator itself to read its own real-time clock  [ when  getDate ( )  is called ]  namely a list of the form  { year  month  day }.

MJDN to Gregorian
conversion, with early
proleptic Julian dates

 Gregorian date, as a TI-92 function. 
 VALID for early Julian dates too.

As the Gregorian calendar is  never  used for dates before October 15, 1582  (a negative MJDN of -100840)  we  must  modify the above to use the  proleptic  Julian calendar for all earlier dates  (by skipping Gregorian century rules and using an offset matching the Julian calendar).  The proper code shown at left can accomodate any switch date:  Simply replace -100840 by the MJDN of the earliest Gregorian date acceptable to  you,  if it's not October 15, 1582.

   Julian date, as a TI-92 function.
 Julian day, as a TI-92 function.
 Gregorian day, as a TI-92 function.
For Gregorian to Julian conversions, it is useful to have a version of the above which  never  switches to the Gregorian calendar.  We call it  jdate  (for "Julian date") and the simple code for it is given by the screenshot at right.

The two functions, dubbed  jday  and  day,  do the opposite of the above, namely they take a Julian or Gregorian date (respectively) and return the corresponding day number  (MJDN).

We do allow months outside of the 1-12 range for months of the previous or following year(s).  Likewise, the number of days can be outside the 1-31 range and  may be fractional. (Fractional years or months are  not  allowed.)  Year 0 is 1 BC, Year -1 is 2 BC, Year -2 is 3 BC, etc.  All of this is compatible with astronomical standards ;-)

The function  day  calls  jday  when it finds an MJDN that's below the earliest acceptable Gregorian date  (again, you may change the -100840 value to the switching MJDN of your choice).  Therefore,  day  correctly interprets  {1582,10,14}  as a deprecated Julian date, 9 days after {1582,10,15}.  Nice.

The above four functions present great computational flexibility.  For example:

date ( jday ( {yyyy,mm,dd} ))   obtains a Gregorian date from a Julian one.
jdate ( day ( {yyyy,mm,dd} ))   obtains a Julian date from a Gregorian one.
date ( day ( {yyyy,mm,dd} ))    puts a "generalized" date in standard form.
day({y2,m2,d2}) - day({y1,m1,d1})   is the difference in days between two dates.
jday({Y,1,1}) - day({Y,1,1})   is the Julian lag at the beginning of year Y.
day(getDate()) - day({1956,3,29})   is my current age, in days.
date(10000 + day({1956,3,29}))   is when I was 10,000 days old (Aug. 15, 1983).
date(20000 + day({1956,3,29}))   is when I'll be 20,000 days old (Dec. 31, 2010).
date(-2400000.5)   is  {-4712,1,1.5}.  That's Julian date 0.0  (defined by the IAU).
date(0)   is  {1858,11,17}  namely  MJD = 0.0  (Nov. 17, 1858 at 0:00 GMT).

The day of the week (0=Sunday, 1=Monday, 2=Tuesday, 3=Wednesday, 4=Thursday, 5=Friday, 6=Saturday) is given by the equivalent expressions:

mod ( 3 + day ({yyyy, mm, dd}) , 7 )
 mod ( 3 + jday ({yyyy, mm, dd}) , 7 )
 mod ( 3 + hday ({yyyy, mm, dd}) , 7 )

There's almost no legitimate need for projecting the Gregorian scheme into the distant past (before 1582) as the proleptic Julian calendar is universally used for that purpose by astronomers and historians alike.  The one useful purpose for a "pure" Gregorian scheme  (as first presented in our introductory gdate screenshot)  would be to find out the correct seasonal date for a yearly celebration of some event that happened well before the Gregorian calendar ever existed...

This would be similar to what George Washington did when he adjusted his own birthday to a Gregorian date  (February 22, 1732)  although it had first been recorded as February 11, in the Julian calendar used at the time in Great-Britain and in the "American Colonies".  In what would become the U.S., the switch occurred on  September 14, 1752,  when Washington was a young adult.

Of course, at the time of Washington's birth, the Gregorian calendar was already legitimate  somewhere else,  This is why the above date and jday functions are sufficient to check Washington's computation.

HP Prime's built-in Gregorian functions :   DDAYS(d1,d2)   |   DATEADD(d,n)   |   DAYOFWEEK(d)

(2007-06-01)   How Old is the Moon?
The average synodic month is  29.530588853 days.

For calendrical purposes, we may consider only the  average  motion of the Moon based on the above period.

In traditional  lunar calendars,  a month starts with the actual observation of the thin crescent of a  new moon,  which typically takes places a day or two after the astronomical new Moon  (when the Moon is invisible).

Let's define the latter as halfway between two  full moons  and take the middle of a recent total lunar eclipse as an "accurate"  full moon.  Using the lunar eclipse of March 3, 2007  (which started at 22:43 UTC and ended at 23:58)  we obtain the following formula for the  age of the Moon,  in days:

mod ( 10.8927 + n ,  29.530588853 )   ®   moon (n)

That's how a  TI-92  function may be defined whose argument is the number  n  (the Modified Julian Date)  prominently featured in the previous article.  This is to be used jointly with the calendrical functions presented there.


The Islamic Month

The arithmetical version of the  Islamic calendar  is based on a cycle of 10631 days, divided into 360 months.  This yields an average month of :

10631 / 360   =   29.530555555... days

That's about  2.8769 s  short of the astronomical average.  It would take about 2428 (tropical) years to build up a discrepancy of a whole day.

 Star of 

The Jewish Month

The  arithmetical  Jewish calendar (the Hillel calendar) is based on the following estimate of the time between consecutive new moons:

765433 / 25920   =   29.530594135802469135802469... days

This is about 0.4564 s  short, compared to the astronomical average.  It would take about 15305 years to build up a discrepancy of a whole day.

Incidentally, the (long term) average of the Hillel year is obtained by multiplying the above by 235/19 (the Metonic approximation to the number of synodic lunar months in a tropical year).  This boils down to  35975351 / 98496  or:

365.246822205977907732293697205977907732293697... days

That's longer than the tropical year (at epoch  1900.0) by 399.4639 s.  Thus, the Hillel calendar drifts with respect to the solar seasons at a rate of about one day in  216 years  (more precisely, 3 days in 649 years, 7 days in 1514 years, 31 days in 6705 years or 69 days in 14924 years).  The Jewish Spring festival of Passover is moving toward the Summer at that rate.  On the  average,  Passover now occurs more than one week later (with respect to the solar seasons) than it did in the times of Hillel II.  The Jews are thus facing a problem similar to the 10-day offset which was bugging Christian authorities before the Gregorian reform of 1582.

The synchronization of the Jewish calendar with the seasons is not nearly as critical as its synchronization with the lunar cycle (a new moon occurs near the beginning of every month).  The large effect of intercalary months on Jewish festivals drowns the tiny drift of those festivals, at a rate of less than half a day per century...

(2017-11-04, Beaver Moon)   Names of the Full Moons in the Year
There are 12 or 13 full moons in each calendar year.

There's at least one full moon in each calendar month  (except, on rare occasions, in February).  Usually, there's just one.  The first full moons in calendar months bear the following names:

American Names of the Full Moons  (inherited from the Algonquian tribes)
MonthFirst Full Moon
JanuaryWolf Moon,  Old Moon,  Ice Moon
FebruarySnow Moon,  Sorm Moon,  Hunger Moon
MarchWorm Moon,  Death Moon,  Crust Moon,  Sap Moon
AprilPink Moon,  Sprouting Grass Moon,  Egg Moon,  Fish Moon
MayFlower Moon,  Hare Moon,  Corn Planting Moon,  Milk Moon
JuneStrawberry Moon,  Rose Moon,  Hot Moon
JulyBuck Moon,  Thunder Moon,  Hay Moon
AugustSturgeon Moon,  Green Corn Moon,  Grain Moon,  Red Moon
SeptemberHarvest Moon,  Corn Moon,  Barley Moon
OctoberHunter's Moon,  Travel Moon,  Dying Grass Moon
NovemberBeaver Moon,  Frost Moon
DecemberCold Moon,  Long Nights Moon,  Oak Moon

Henry Porter Trefethen  (1887-1957)  was the editor of 26 issues  (for the years 1932 to 1957)  of the popular  Maine Farmer's Almanac  which was published from 1819 to 1972  (154 issues).  He didn't try to innovate in the 1932 issue but thereafter his Almanac clearly reflected his own growing interest in Pagan lore and folklore  (he was of Celtic ancestry).  In the 1933 issue, Trefethen introduced the names  Harvest Moon  and  Hunter's Moon  for the full moons which occurred that year on Sept. 4  and Oct. 3,  respectively  (he explained the names only in the 1934 issue).  The 1933 almanac also contained an essay on the Native American names for all the full moons occuring in various seasons  (the author being only identified by the initials C.G.F.).

Traditional rural societies recorded the full moons separately in each of the four seasons. 

Trefethen's Names of the Full Moons
First Yule MoonEgg MoonHay MoonHarvest Moon
Middle Wolf MoonMilk MoonGrain MoonHunter's Moon
Last Lenten MoonHoney MoonFruit MoonIce Moon

After the passing of Trefethen  (1957)  the editors of  The Maine Farmer's Almanac  didn't apply his system reliably.  Note that this defunct almanac (1819-1972)  bears no relation with the extant  Farmer's Almanac,  which is slightly older  (1818)  and moved its offices to Lewiston, Maine, in 1955.

February :

Because the interval between two full moons  (the lunar month of 29.530588853 days)  is greater than the duration of the month of February  (28 or 29 days)  it's possible for February to contain no full moons.  This happens in February 2018, which is surrounded by two months with two full moons  (there's a  new-style blue moon  on January 31 and on March 31, those two are separated by only 59 days, which is the minimum possible).  The same situation last happened in 1999.  It will happen again in 2037.

National Geographic   |   Old Farmer's Almanac   |   Farmer's Almanac
Paganism in the Maine Farmer's Almanac  by  Robert Mathiesen (The Witches' Almanac", 31,   2012-2013)

 Blue Moon (2017-11-06)   Blue Moons
There are two definitions for what a calendrical  blue moon  is.

Blue Moon (New Style):  Second full moon in a calendar month.
Blue Moon (Old Style):  Third full moon in a season which has four.

In our Gregorian calendar,  those two definitions are utterly incompatible.

Some linguists are content with a quick definition of  once in a blue moon  (denoting the frequency of a rare event)  and will call  pedantic  [sic]  the more precise calendrical definitions of what a lone blue moon is.  I beg to differ.  The full story has delightful ramifications.

The locution  blue moon  was first used in print by  Pierce Egan (1772-1849)  in his 1821 book  Life in London,  which begat a stage play and a warm Christmas drink, both called  Tom and Jerry,  also in 1821.  The drink inspired the titles of  two  series of cartoons:  Van Beuren's Tom and Jerry  (1931-1933)  and MGM's hugely popular  Tom and Jerry  cat-and-mouse cartoons by  Hanna and Barbera  (1940-1958, with ongoing spinoffs).

 Tom and Jerry

Life in London;  or,  The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and
his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom,  accompanied by Bon Logic, the Oxonian,
in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis.   (by Pierce Egan,  1821)
[...]   How's Harry and Ben?  Haven't seen you this  blue moon.

In 1821,  Pierce Egan  had to give an explanatory note for this early use.

The precise usage of  blue moon  to denote the  second  full moon in a month is far more recent.  It has been traced to an honest mistake made in 1946...

The board game  Trivial Pursuit  (Genus II expansion pack #730077, 1986)  was instrumental in the popularization of this new definition.  According to the publisher's own records, their source was a children's book which first appeared the previous year (1985): 

The Kids' World Almanac of Records and Facts  by  Margo McLoone-Basta and
Alice Siegel.  illustrated by Richard Rosenblum.  World Almanac, New York (1985).

Have You Ever Wondered?   [Bottom of page 229]

  1. What is a "blue moon"?  When there are two full moons in a month, the second one is called a blue moon.  This is a rare occurrence.

The authors may well have heard about that in January 1980 on the  NPR  (National Public Radio)  program  StarDate  produced by  Deborah Byrd (1951-)  as Byrd herself pointed out in the December 1990 issue of  Astronomy.  Her own source was a  mistake  made by the amateur astronomer  James Hugh Pruett (1886-1955)  in an article entitled  Once in a Blue Moon  published in the March 1946 issue of  Sky & Telescope.

Pruett  had misinterpreted the prior definition of a blue moon and became inadvertently responsible for the introduction of the simpler  new style  version, by hastily issuing the following comment in print:

Seven times in 19 years there were --and still are-- 13 full moons in a year.  This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two.  This second in a month,  so I interpret it,  was called Blue Moon.

Incidentally, that summary is incorrect,  since  February  sometimes doesn't possess a full moon,  in which case there are two full moons in January and two in March  (that's still 13 full-moons for the whole year).  This happened in 1999, this is happening in 2018 and this will happen again in 2037.

The above words of  Pruett  lay dormant for more than thirty years in a yellowing copy of the magazine at the Péridier Library  (in the  Astronomy Department  of  UT Austin).  That's where  Deborah Byrd  found them in the late 1970s.  She made this  new style  definition her own and would naturally share it with her radio audience a couple of years later,  thus ushering it into folklore, before she--or anyone else--bothered to chronicle its actual genesis.

The "source" quoted by  Pruett  in his 1946 essay was just an earlier  (1943)  Sky and Telescope  column by  Laurence LaFleur  which referred to the following comment given for the month of August 1937 in  The Maine Farmer's Almanac  (the very publication which had introduced the  old style  of blue moons to the general public):

[...]   However, occasionally the moon comes full thirteen times in a year.  This was considered a very unfortunate circumstance, especially by the monks who had charge of the calendar.  It became necessary for them to make a calendar of thirteen months for that year, and it upset the regular arrangement of church festivals.  For this reason thirteen came to be considered an unlucky number.  Also, this extra moon had a way of coming in each of the seasons so that it could not be given a name appropriate to the time of year like the other moons.  It was usually called the Blue Moon.  There are seven Blue Moons in a cycle of nineteen years.  This year (1937) has a Blue Moon in August the same as 1918.  In 1934 and 1915 Blue Moons came in November.  The next Blue Moon will occur in May 1940 as it did in 1921.  There was a Blue Moon in February 1924.  In olden times the almanac makers had much difficulty in calculating the occurrence of the Blue Moon and this uncertainty gave rise to the expression "Once in a Blue Moon."

Now, the first sentence of that passage is as misleading as can be.  By itself,  that sentence could only be a prelude to a  new style  definition!  It's utterly irrelevant to the --then current-- old style  definition;  especially for the year 1937, which only had 12 full moons!  The essay had indeed been prompted by the  full moon on 21 August 1937  which was an  old style  blue moon  (since the next full moon  (on 20 September 1937)  would be the fourth full moon of the Summer of 1937).

Most of the above chain of events was unraveled by  Phillip Hiscock  who has published his own account several times in the media,  starting with a newspaper column he was prompted to write on the occasion of the "Blue Moon"  (new style)  on  31 December 1990.

Dr. Hiscock is a self-described  folklorist  at the  Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive  (MUNFLA).
His blue-moon  communiqués  culminated in a story he wrote for the May 1999 issue of  Sky & Telescope.  That article revived public interest in the matter and helped resurrect the  old-style  definition.  A newer version, dated 2012-08-24, was published online  by  Sky & Telescope.

 Blue Moon

Belewe Mone

In Old and Middle English,  the adjective  belewe  meant either blue or  treacherous  (to belewe meant to betray).  The earliest extant reference to a  belewe mone  is found in a famous  1528  pamphlet by  William Barlow, Bishop of Chichester, entitled  The Treatyse of the Buryall of the Masse  but more commonly known by its first words,  Rede Me and Be Nott Wrothe :

Rede Me and be Nott Wrothe,
for I Saye No Thinge But Trothe
[ ... ]
Yf they saye the mone is belewe,
We must believe that it is true,
Admittynge their interpretacion.

The three full moons in a regular season were called  firstmiddle  and  last.  Occasionally,  the third full moon in a season wasn't the  last  one and may thus have been perceived as misleading or  belewe.  That's one possible etymological explanation for what may have been the origin of the term.

A dubious urban legend is that this extra full moon was printed in blue in some almanacs,  possibly including  The Maine Farmer's Almanac  (1819-1972)  presumably to draw attention to the fact that a given third full moon wasn't the last of the season.  I haven't seen any examples of that.

The average duration between two consecutive blue moons is slightly  smaller  in the new style  (month-based)  system because there are  more  blue moons this way.  That's due to the fact that it's possible for the month of February to have no full moons  (thus increasing the number of months with two full moons in them).

In borderline cases, it's extremely complicated to predict astronomically the season a given full moon will belong to  (it even depends on the location on the surface of the Earth).  Thus, calendar makers had to rely on arithmetical approximations sanctioned by some central authority.  In particular, Christian monks had to determine the date of the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  This happens to be precisely what the  Paschal full moon  is meant to approximate  (in the computation of the date of Easter,  described in the next section).

Those almanac makers probably synchronized the other equinox and the two solstices on the ecclesiastical spring equiquinox.  Before the calendrical reform of 1582, this was rather silly.  This goes a long way toward explaining the aforementioned complaint of Bishop Barlow about those who were defining the  belewe mone  by some obscure arbitrary process...

At the time,  the calendar was off by about ten days with respect to the seasons.  As farmers were still synchronizing their work with the lunar cycle,  mistakes in the naming of the full moons may have resulted in lesser crop yields.  The calendrical reform of 1582 wasn't just about church festivals;  it was beneficial to agriculture as well.

 DrGerard What's a blue moon?  How often does one occur?   (Yahoo! Answers, 2007-08-06).
Wikipedia  |  Farmer's Almanac  |  timeanddate.com  |  space.com  |  Once in a Blue Moon
Blue Moon  by    (WordOrigins.org  2006-04-08).
Belewe Moon  by  Van Wymelenberg   (By Jupiter!  2009-09-29).
Once in a Blue Moon    (Farmer's Almanac  2012-08-20).
Once in a Blue Moon  by  Philip Hiscock   (Sky & Telescope  2012-08-24).
Blue Moon:  The Strange Evolution of a Phrase  by  Natalie Wolchover   (LiveScience  2012-08-28).
The origin of of the phrase  once in a blue moon  by  Emily Upton   (2013-06-10).
'Blue moon':  Where does that come from?  by  Gretel Kauffman   (Christian Science Monitor  2015-07-30).
When is the next Blue Moon?  by  Bruce McClure  &  Deborah Byrd   (EarthSky,  2017-01-31).

 Cross (2003-02-20)   The Date of Easter
The resurrection of Christ is celebrated on Easter Sunday, reckoned as the Sunday following the  Paschal Full Moon.

According to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday which fell just before the festival of  Passover  (15 Nissan)  which is always near a full moon.  The 14th of Nissan actually fell on a Friday on the following Julian dates:

  • 7th of April in AD 30.
  • 3rd of April in AD 33.  (The correct date of the Crucifixion.)

In 1733, Sir Isaac Newton had argued for the next year (AD 34) but this would only be possible with a Jewish calendrical rule of postponement that was not yet enforced at that time!  On the other hand, the baptism of Christ is clearly stated to have occurred during the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1).  which corresponds to AD 29 in the Julian calendar.  As the ministry of Christ covered 3 full years from that point on,  the day of the Crucifixion would be firmly established to be April 3rd of AD 33.  A partial lunar eclipse was visible at moonrise from Jerusalem on that very day, so that  the Moon appeared like blood.  Everything fits.

In 1910,  J.K. Fotheringham  reconstructed the Jewish calendar astronomically, like Newton had done, two centuries earlier:  He advocated AD 30 as the date of the Crucifixion,  to reconcile an "age of Christ" of 33 years  (speculated by Dionysius and popularized by the Venerable Bede)  with the belief, spread by Scaliger in 1583, that  King Herod  died in 4 BC...

At the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church (held in Nicea, in 325 AD), it was decided to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the so-called Paschal full moon:

The Paschal full moon is an arithmetical approximation to the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  John H. Conway (1937-2020)  expressed it as follows in terms of the so-called Golden number (G) and Century term (C):

Paschal full moon (PFM)   =   (April 19, or March 50) - (C+11G) mod 30

... except  in two cases where the PFM is one day earlier than this, namely:

  • When (C+11G) is 0 modulo 30,  then   PFM = April 18  (not April 19).
  • When (C+11G) is 1 modulo 30, and G ≥ 12,   PFM = April 17  (not 18).

Some famous algorithms,  like the so-called  Gauss formula,  are wrong because they fail to incorporate those two exceptional cases (e.g., in 1981 the PFM was Saturday April 18, and Easter Sunday was April 19).  The Golden number (G) is the same for both Julian and Gregorian computations, but the Century term is constant (C = +3) in Julian computations:

  • G = 1 + (Y mod 19)   in year Y   (Julian or Gregorian).
  • C = -H + ëH/4û + ë8(H+11)/25û   with H = ëY/100û (Gregorian year Y)
    C is -4 from 1583 to 1699, -5 from 1700 to 1899, -6 from 1900 to 2199, -7 from 2200 to 2299.

As the Sunday following the PFM, Easter is one week after the PFM when the PFM happens to fall on a Sunday...

You should work entirely within the Julian calendar (C = +3) to find when Easter is celebrated by Orthodox churches.  If it doesn't take place on the same Sunday, such a celebration currently occurs 1, 4 or 5 weeks after the Gregorian date of Easter...

This will not always be so in the distant future, as the calendars drift apart and the Julian  Pascal Full Moon  is no longer a good approximation of an actual full moon.  The above pattern is first broken in 2437, when Gregorian Easter occurs on March 22, whereas the Julian version would be scheduled 6 weeks later, on May 3  (that's April 17, in the Julian calendar).  The Gregorian reform was precisely engineered to avoid this slow creep of Easter toward summertime.

(Erroneous) Gauss Formula   |   Bibliography on Easter Algorithms and the Computus   |   Easter Date
Date de Pâques - Comput (JavaScript)   |   How Easter Date is Determined   |   Easter Dating Method
How Passover became Easter  |  Passover: the Jewish and Christian versions  |  Ecclesiastical Calculator

Ecclesiastical Calendar :

For Christians,  Fixed Holidays  occur at fixed dates in the Gregorian calendar  (or in the Julian calendar for Orthodox churches)  whereas  Moveable Holidays  depend on the date of Easter  (as computed above).

  • Lent  is the period of 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
  • The  Advent  is the period from Advent Sunday to Christmas (Dec. 25).
Fixed Christian Holidays
6 JanuaryEpiphanyAdoration of the Magi
2 FebruaryCandlemas40th day of Christmas
25 MarchAnnunciation9 months before Christmas (Lady Day)
24 JuneSt. John the BaptistSummer Solstice
15 AugustAssumptionAssumption of Mary
29 SeptemberMichaelmasAll Angels  (Fall Equinox)
31 OctoberHalloweenAll Hallows Eve
1 NovemberAll HallowsAll Saints
2 NovemberAll SoulsEverybody
4th Sunday bef. XmasAdvent SundayBeginning of Advent
25 DecemberChristmasNativity of Jesus of Nazareth
Moveable Christian Holidays
70 days before EasterSeptuagesima10 weeks before Easter
40 days before EasterShrove TuesdayLast day before Lent  (Mardi Gras)
39 days before EasterAsh WednesdayBeginning of Lent (40-day fast)
7 days before EasterPalm SundayBeginning of Holy Week
Thursday before EasterMaundy ThursdayLast Supper  (Eucharist)
Friday before EasterGood FridayCrucifixion of Jesus Christ
(Sunday after PFM)EasterDay of Resurrection
1 day after EasterEaster MondaySecond day of Easter
39 days after EasterAscension ThursdayAscension of Jesus Christ
49 days after EasterPentecost SundayHoly Spirit upon the Apostles  (Whitsun)
50 days after EasterWhit MondayPentecost Monday
56 days after EasterTrinity Sunday8 weeks after Easter

"Ordinary times" are counted from Trinity and end with Advent Sunday.

The Courts of England and Wales divide their year into 4 terms whose names are borrowed from the above ecclesiastical calendar:  Hilary (celebrated on January 14), Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas.  So do British universities with slightly different term names, as summarized below.  In 2004, Newcastle decided to drop traditional names in favor of  "culturally neutral"  ones  (Autumn, Spring, Summer)  like most American universities  (Fall, Spring and Summer quarters).  The traditional British academic year starts with the  Michaelmas term.

  • Michaelmas Term:  From October to December.
  • Lent (Cambridge), Epiphany or Hilary Term (Oxford):  January to March.
  • Easter Term (Trinity Term in Oxford only):  From April to June.
  • Trinity Term (judicial system only):  From June to September.

Wikipedia :   Computus   |   Ecclesiastical full moon   |   Liturgical year

 Crescent Moon (2002-12-28)   Hegira Calendar   [AH = Anno Hegirae]
The Islamic calendar is called  Hijri  (or Hijrah calendar).

The origin of the Muslim calendar is "1 Muharram 1 AH"  (i.e., Friday, July 16, 622 CE) and predates by a few weeks the "flight from Mecca" (Hijra, Latin: Hegira) which, according to Muslim tradition, took place in September 622 CE.

The numbering of years from the date of the Hegira was introduced in AD 639  (17 AH) by the second Caliph, 'Umar ibn Al-KHaTTab (592-644).  The monthly Islamic calendar itself had already been in use since  AD 631  (10 AH) as the Quran prescribes a  lunar  calendar  without  embolismic months  (9:36-37).

Before  10 AH, a long forgotten "Arabian calendar" was probably used, which was similar to the Jewish calendar and had an intercalary month, now and then, in order to compensate for the steady drift of the lunar cycle with respect to the solar seasons.

Since an Islamic year (12 lunar months) falls shorts of a tropical year by almost 11 days, the Islamic calendar isn't related to the seasons.  Muslim festivals simply drift backwards and return roughly to the same seasonal point after a period of 33 Islamic years (which is about a week longer than 32 tropical years).

Traditionally, the beginning of a new Islamic month is defined locally from the time when the thin crescent of the young moon actually becomes visible again at dusk, a day or so after the new moon.  If the moon can't be observed for any reason, the new month is said to begin 30 days after the last one did.

Tabular Islamic Calendars :

Printed Islamic calendars are based on standard  arithmetic  predictions of moon sightings.  We present the most common of eight extant variants.

Such schemes were devised by Muslim asronomers  after the eighth century CE.  Historians use this routinely to convert an Islamic date to a Gregorian one  (unless a knowledge of the day of the week allows a precise synchronization with relevant local observational calendars).

A regular cycle of 30 years is used, which includes 19 years of 354 days and 11 years of 355 days (modulo 30, the long years are: 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 21, 24, 26, and 29).  The average Islamic month is thus 29.53055555... days, which is about 2.9 s shorter than the actual mean synodic lunar month of 29.530588853 days (it would take about 2428 tropical years to build up a discrepancy of a whole day). The standard Islamic year is tabulated below:

Number Month NameDays
3Raby' al-awal30
4Raby' al-THaany29
5Jumaada al-awal30
6Jumaada al-THaany29
11Thw al-Qi'dah30
12Thw al-Hijjah29 or 30
  30 Islamic years
(10631  days)

Important Islamic Celebrations  
10 MuHarramAshura Remembrance of Muharram
12 Raby' al-awalMaulidun-Nabi Birth of the Prophet
27 RajabLaylatul-Mi'raj Night of Ascension
15 SHa'baan  Laylatul-Bara'ah  
Night of Record
1 RamaDHaanRamaDHaan   Fast of Ramadan (first day)  
27 RamaDHaanLaylatul-Qadr Night of Power
1 SHawwalEid al-Fitar Breaking of the Fast
  10 Thw al-Hijjah   Eid al-Adha Sacrifice Festival  [3½ days]

Hijri Calendrical Formulas :   (2007-06-22)

The average Islamic year (12 months) is  10631 / 30 = 354.36666... days.  If day 0 (zero) is the first day of the above cycle of 30 Islamic years, then the number of the year to which day N belongs equals  floor ((30N+k)/10631)  provided  k  is between  26  (included)  and  27  (excluded).

Such a choice of  k  ensures that two critical inequalities are satisfied:  For year 16 to be longer than year 15, day 5669 must belong to year 16 and not 15.  This requires  k  to be  at least  16*10631-30*5669 = 26.  On the other hand, for year 26 to be longer than year 27, day 9567 must be in year 26 rather than 27, which implies that  k  must be strictly less than  27*10631-30*9567 = 27.  These two inequalities are sufficient to satisfy the 60 constraints imposed by the entire 30-year pattern.

Using  k = 26,  we obtain a formula  (valid for an  indefinite  number of 30-year Islamic cycles)  giving the Islamic year Y corresponding to day N:

Y   =   floor ( [ 30 N + k ] / 10631 )

Conversely, the number NY corresponding to the first day of year Y is:

NY   =   ceiling ( [ 10631 Y - k ] / 30 )

Subtracting this quantity from the original day number (N) we obtain a number N' from 0 to 354 within the Islamic year.  From this number N', the Islamic month is not difficult to obtain.  Conversely, we may also get the number of the first day of the month.  The number within the month is obtained by subtracting that from N'.

All this can be embodied into two computer routines which convert a day number to an Islamic date (hdate) and vice-versa (hday).  For compatibility with the similar routines for the Gregorian and Julian calendars, we count days from the MJDN origin, with an offset of 451915 days.  The following implementations are for the TI-92, TI-89 and  Voyage 200  handheld calculators.  

 Hijri date, as a TI-92 function.    Hijri day, as a TI-92 function.

hday({y2,m2,d2}) - hday({y1,m1,d1}) is the number of days between two Hijri dates.
hdate ( hday ( {yyyy,mm,dd} )) puts a "generalized" Hijri date in standard form.
date ( hday ( {yyyy,mm,dd} )) obtains a Gregorian date from a Hijri date.
hdate ( day ( {yyyy,mm,dd} )) obtains a Hijri date from a Gregorian one.

Competing Variants of the Tabular Islamic Calendar :

The aforementioned date of  Friday  July 16, 622 CE  is by far the most common starting point of the Hegira calendar, but it may also be reckoned from  Thursday  July 15, 622 CE.  This so-called "Thursday" calendar would be obtained with an offset of 451916 days (instead of 451915) in both of the above routines.

There are no fewer than  30  regular  intercalatory patterns which would be based on the same 30-year period (of 10631 days) as above.  Apparently, only four of those have ever been advocated (as tabulated below).

The four extant intercalatory patterns agree that years 2, 5, 13, 21 and 24  (modulo 30)  are "long" years of 355 days, but disagree on some of the remaining 6 long years in the 30-year cycle of 10631 days.  This amounts to different values of  k  for the calendrical formulas introduced above  (with k = 26) :

The  8  Extant Variants of the Tabular Islamic Calendar
Long Years (modulo 30) kminkmax  Friday   Thursday
 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 15, 18, 21, 24, 26, 29 25< 26IcIa
 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 21, 24, 26, 29  26< 27 IIcIIa
 2, 5, 8, 10, 13, 16, 19, 21, 24, 27, 29 29< 30IIIcIIIa
 2, 5, 8, 11, 13, 16, 19, 21, 24, 27, 0 1< 2IVcIVa

To make the above calendrical functions match your favorite variation:

  • Change the constant 26 (which appears 3 times) into 25, 26, 29 or 1.
  • Use 451915 for a Friday calendar, or 451916 for a Thursday calendar.

The above numbering of the 8 extant variants of the Tabular Islamic Calendar follows the classification given by Robert Harry van Gent, who calls "civil" (c) the tabular calendar based on the usual starting point of  July 16, 622 CE  and "astronomical" (a) the "Thursday" calendar based on a July 15 starting point.

Ic - Kushyar ibn Labban  (AD 971-1029).
- Ulugh Beg  (AD 1393-1449).
- Convertisseur de dateMinistère des Habous et des Affaires Islamiques.
- Gregorian-Hijri Dates Converter, by Waleed Muhanna.
Ia - Microsoft's algorithm  (misleadingly called the Kuwaiti algorithm).
- Islam Online's Date Converter.
- Al-Islam's Agenda-Date Converter  (Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Saudi Arabia).
IIc - Gnu Emacs editor  (courtesy of Dershowitz and Reingold).
- Calendrica, by Edward M. Reingold and Nachum Dershowitz.
- Numericana, by Gérard P. Michon.
- Calendar Magic, by Alex Balfour.
- Today's Date, by Doug Zongker.
- Java Calendar Conversions, by Mark E. Shoulson.
- Fourmilab's Calendar Converter, by John Walker.
- Conversion of Islamic and Christian dates, by Johannes Thomann.
- Muslim Holidays.  Dates of Religious and Civil Holidays Around the World.
- Hijri/Gregorian/Julian Converter, by Tarek Maani.
- The Islamic Calendar, by Claus Tøndering.
IIIa - Fatimid Calendar.  Misri calendar.  Bohra calendar.
- Date Exchange, by Sualeh Fatehi.
- Hijri Calendar  (Dawoodi Bohra Version).
IVa - Ahmad ibn 'Abdallah Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi  (d. ca. AD 870).
- Abu Arrayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni  (AD 973-1048).
- Elias of Nisibis or Elias bar Senaya,  Patriarch Elias I of Tirhan  (1028-1049).

Many of the above authors do point out that such arithmetic approximations are not a substitute for the actual observational Islamic calendar sanctioned by religious authorities.  Reingold and Dershowitz  (Calendrica)  also provide an "observational" [sic] Islamic calendar, based on more precise astronomical computations to better predict the religious beginning of each Islamic month.

Crescent Moon Visibility and the Islamic Calendar (USNO)   |   Islamic Calendar(s)
The Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia   |   July 16, 622   |   Islamic Calendar

 Star of  David (2002-12-29)   Jewish Calendar   [AM = Anno Mundi]

The Jewish calendar is called lunisolar, because it uses lunar months (of either 29 or 30 days, following the phases of the Moon) while keeping the year roughly synchronized with the solar seasons through the regular intercalation of a 13th (embolismic) month:  In leap years, this extra month (Adar I, or Adar aleph) occurs just before the month when Purim is celebrated, the regular month of Adar (called Adar II, or Adar bet, in leap years).  This compensates for the fact that 12 lunar months are nearly 11 days short of a tropical year.

The Hebrew calendar is also known as the Hillel calendar, because the first version of its modern rules was established (in 358-359 CE) under the authority of Hillel II, president  (nasi)  of the Great Sanhedrin  (the highest Jewish court of law, which existed until the rabbinic patriarchate was abolished  c. 425 CE).  Before this  arithmetical  calendar was established, the Sanhedrin was issuing a monthly ruling to determine the beginning of the month, based (at least in part) on eyewitness accounts of actual sightings of the thin crescent of the new moon.

A Jewish day begins in the evening.  For calendrical computations,  Rambam time  is used which begins  (0h)  precisely a quarter of a day after high noon (solar time) in Jerusalem.  The calendar computed for Jerusalem is simply applied to other parts of the World according to local time.

The Rambam is how most students of Judaica call Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204) a prolific scholar born in Spain, also known as Moses Maimonides.  He developed the 13 Principles of Faith and authored the  Mishneh Torah,  an extensive code of Jewish Law whose 14th volume (written c. 1178 CE) is entitled  Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh  ("Sanctification of the New Moon")  and deals with calendrical matters.

The day is divided into  24  fixed  hours of 1080 "parts" (halakim) each.  An interval of 10 seconds is thus 3 halakim (also spelled halaqim, chalakim or chalaqim, the singular form is helek, heleq, chalak or chalaq).  This helek of 3 1/3 seconds is subdivided into 76 rega'im.  The rega is thus 5/114 of a second, or about 43.386 ms  (that unit of time is not used in calendrical computations).

The helek is equal to the ancient Babylonian  she  (barleycorn of time)  which is the 72nd part of the main Babylonian unit of time, the degree of time (itself equal to 4 modern minutes or 1/360 of a mean solar day, which is the time it takes the Sun to move one angular degree).

The Jewish tradition  (Mesorah)  gives the average duration of a lunar month to the nearest  helek  (there are 25920 halakim in a day) :

29 days, 12 hours and 793 halakim

That value, of  765433 halakim per month, is said to date back to the time of Moses in the Sinai, but it's also given prosaically in Ptolemy's Almagest with an attribution to Hipparchus of Rhodes (190-120 BC) using the Babylonian sexagesimal fractional notation (which originated in the Seleucid era, after 312 BC) whereby 1'  is 1/60 of a day, 1''  is 1/60 of that (1/3600 of a day) etc.

29 days  31' 50'' 8''' 20''''     [ NB:  1 helek  =  8''' 20'''' ]

That duration remains a whole number of halakim although the notation is capable of a precision 500 times greater.  We may infer that Ptolemy and/or Hipparchus were quoting the value recorded  to the nearest helek  by ancient astronomers.

That traditional value is less than half a second  (456.4 ms)  above the modern mean synodic lunar month value of about 29.530588853 days,  which equals  29 days, 12 hours, 792.863 halakim.  In Babylonian terms, this would be:

29 days  31' 50'' 7''' 11'''' ½

Around 1500 BC, the day was about 70 ms shorter and the month was 1500 ms shorter.  Expressed in halakim and other fractions of a day, the month was then 29 days, 12 hours, 793.033 halakim.  This means that the traditional value was then 4 times more accurate than now... It was even entirely correct at some point (around 800 BC).

Years are counted since the mythical creation of the world, in 3761 BCE.  Jewish year numbers are best suffixed with "AM" (Anno Mundi; year of the world).

In each Metonic cycle of 19 years, there are 12 simple years of 12 months, which may contain 353, 354 or 355 days.  The remaining 7 leap years have 13 months and contain 383, 384 or 385 days.  Modulo 19, the leap years are 0, 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, or 17.  In other words,  Y  is a leap year if and only if

mod ( 12 Y - 2 , 19 )   >   11

Either type of year comes in three different lengths, called defective (H for Haser, 353 or 383 days), regular or normal (K for Kesidra, 354 or 384 days), and perfect or complete (S for Shalem, 355 or 385 days). 

The months are traditionally numbered as shown in the table below (Esther 2:16, 3:7, 3:12), but the year number changes on Rosh HaShanah ("Jewish New Year"), the first day of Tishri.  Formerly, the older "sacred year" started with the first day of Nissan (not Tishri), whereas the above convention applied only to the civil year.  Apparently, the former tradition faded away in the 3rd century (CE).

The names of the months are derived from the ancient  Babylonian calendar,  dating back to the days of the 70-year captivity in Babylon (c. 600 BC).

The ancient names shown in italics are obsolete.
NumberMonth Name(s) HKSSeason
1Nissan, Nisan, Abib30March-April
2Iyar, Ziv29April-May
5Av, Ab30July-August
7Tishri, Tishrei, Ethanim    [New Year]30Sept.-Oct.
8Cheshvan, Heshvan, Marheshvan, Bul 292930Oct.-Nov.
9Kislev 293030Nov.-Dec.
10Tevet, Tebet, Tebeth 29Dec.-January
11Shevat, Sebat, Shebat30January-Feb.
12Adar I   (leap years only) 30Feb.-March
12 or 13Adar  (Adar II in leap years)29March-April

Shabbat  is a time of weekly rest which lasts about 25 hours, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.  The beginning and end of  Shabbat  is a function of  local  solar time.  Shabbat  begins on Friday evening, 18 minutes before sunset  (Sheqiya)  itself defined as the time when the center of the Sun is  50"  (i.e., an angle of 5°/6)  below the horizon.  Shabbat  ends Saturday evening a few minutes after nightfall  (tzeit hacokhavim, the birth of stars)  at a time often said to be when 3 stars should become visible (in clear wheather).  This is computed as the time when the center of the Sun is  8.5 °  below the horizon.  The same rules are used to define the beginning and the end of any Jewish festival  (Yom Tov).

The first day of any Jewish month is a minor festival  (Rosh Hodesh)  except, of course, for the beginning of Tishri  (Rosh HaShanah)  which marks the beginning of the Jewish year.  Rosh HaShanah  is a strongly observed 2-day  celebration.  The 3 "pilgrimage festivals"  (Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot)  were occasions for mass pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction (in 70 CE).  Passover is second only to  Yom Kippur  in traditional observance.

Main Jewish Festivals
1 TishriRosh HaShanah
(Yom Teruah)
Jewish New Year  (2 days)
(Day of Trumpets)
10 TishriYom KippurDay of Atonement
15 TishriSukkot Feast of Tabernacles  (first day)
21 TishriHoshanah RabbahSeventh day of Sukkot
22 TishriShemini AzeretEighth Day of Assembly
Simchat Torah(celebrated 23 Tishri outside Israel)
25 Kislev Hanukkah, Chanukkah Festival of Lights  (8 days)
14 AdarPurimJewish  Mardi Gras
(15 Adar)(Shushan Purim)  (Purim is postponed in walled cities)  
15 NissanPessah, PesachPassover  (7 days)
 27* Nissan Yom HaShoahHolocaust Remembrance Day
18 IyarLag B'Omer 
 6 Sivan ShavuotFestival of Weeks
* Moved from a Friday to the preceeding Thursday and from a Sunday to the next Monday.

The above table is for celebration of Jewish festivals in Israel.  The tradition is that most Jewish holidays are extended by one additional day for the Jewish Diaspora outside Israel.  Exceptions include Rosh HaShanah  (2 days for everybody)  and  Yom Kippur  (one day for everybody).

The reason for this general rule dates back to the times when the Jewish calendar was not yet arithmetical (before 359 CE).  Far from Jerusalem, the calendrical decision of the Sanhedrin for the current month might not be known early enough to allow the celebrations to take place on the "correct" day, so they were held for two days instead.  For Rosh Hashanah, which occurs at the very beginning of the month, the Sanhedrin's decision could not reach anybody in time (as messengers wouldn't be dispatched during holidays) so, everybody celebrates for two days.  On the other hand, the observance of  Yom Kippur for two days would be too much of a hardship...  So, there's  only one  "Day of Atonement" for everybody!

Jewish Calendrical Formulas :   (2007-06-24)

First, we treat  Jewish embolismic months  with the method we used for Islamic embolismic days.  Namely, we observe that the pattern of Jewish leap years is such that months can be numbered continously  (starting with number  0  for Tishri of Jewish Year 0)  so that the year  Y  to which month  X  belongs is simply:

Y   =   floor ( (19 X + k) / 235 )       where   5 ≤ k < 6

Conversely, the number  X  of the  first month  (Tishri) of year  Y  is the  least  X  which verifies the above equation, namely:

X   =   ceiling ( (235 Y - k) / 19 )     [let's use k=5]

The  precise  key to the Jewish calendar is  Molad Tishri, namely the exact time  M  of the new moon which occurs on  Rosh HaShanah  (or slightly before, as explained below)  expressed in days and fraction of a day to the nearest helek  (in Rambam time at Jerusalem).  A new moon  (molad)  is defined as the time when the  apparent longitudes  of the Moon and the Sun coincide.

The Hillel calendar is based on an arithmetical approximation to  M,  whereby consecutive new moons are exactly  765433/25920  days apart  ( 29d 12h 793 ).

The periodic pattern must be anchored at some  reference Molad.  In practice, Tracey R. Rich recommends one of the following [equivalent] starting points:

  • Y = 5558 :   X = 68744.   (1797-09-21) + 12487 / 25920  (= 11h 607)
  • Y = 5661 :   X = 70018.   (1900-09-24) + 11889 / 25920  (= 11h 9)
  • Y = 5759 :   X = 71230.   (1998-09-21) + 13965 / 25920  (= 12h 1005)

So calibrated, the  molad  corresponding to month number  X  is found to be:

M   =    765433 X  +  8255

For X=13, this does give a value  M = 384 + 5604/25920  (namely, 5h 204)  for  Molad Tishri  of Year 1,  known as  Molad Tohu  (the molad of creation).  For X=25  (Molad Tishri  of Year 2)  we obtain a  whole  number of hours  (14h).  This "coincidence" would normally happen only once in 1080 years, but we're told that the calendar was actually cooked to make it so...  Since Tishri of Year 2 used to be counted in the first year AM  (when the  sacred  year started with Nissan)  it was thought that the "first Molad Tishri" ought to be a round number.

Our previous calendrical formula turns the above expression into a formula giving the  Molad Tishri  of Jewish year  Y  (Anno Mundi)  namely:

M   =    765433 ceiling ( (235 Y - 5) / 19 )  +  8255

In our straight count of days,  floor (M)  is the day number for  Rosh HaShanah,  except when otherwise specified by one of  4  so-called  "rules of postponement"  (dehhioth, dehioth, dehiyyot or dechiyot is the plural of dehhiah or dechiyah). 

  • Dechiyah #1 :   Molad Zakein   ("Old Molad")
    Molad Tishri  must occur before noon  (18h, Rambam time)  or else  Rosh HaShanah  is postponed to the next day.

The traditional origin for that rule was that the thin crescent of the young moon had to be observable at sunset on Rosh Hashanah.

  • Dechiyah #2 :   Lo A"DU Rosh   ("No Beginning on Alef-Dalet-Vav")
    Rosh HaShanah  is postponed to the following day if it would otherwise fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

The word  A"DU  is a mnemonic for the hebrew letters alef, dalet and vav, whose numerical values (1, 4 and 6) correspond to Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.  Rosh HaShanah  is only allowed to fall on a Monday, a Tuesday, a Thursday or a Saturday;  one of the "4 gates" through which the new year must be entered.

That dechiyah is designed to avoid certain days of the week for some festivals.  For example, the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles  (Hoshana Rabbah)  shouldn't fall on a Saturday since the ceremony of "beating the willow twigs" involves work not permitted on Shabbat.  That rules out Sunday for Rosh HaShanah, 20 days before.  Similarly, the Day of Atonement  (Yom Kippur)  would fall immediately before or after Shabbat if Rosh HaShanah was allowed to occur on a Wednesday or a Friday...

Outside of the months of Kislev, Tevet, Shevat and Adar I, every date is a fixed number of days away from either the prior  Rosh HaShanah  (for Tishri and Heshvan)  or the next one.  So, a given date outside those months can only fall on 4 days of the week.  For example, since Nissan 27 can't fall on a Saturday, there was no need to spell out that case in the law which made "Yom HaShoah" the day not adjacent to Shabbat closest to the 27th of Nissan  (cf. note in the above table).
  • Dechiyah #3 :   Gatarad   ("Tuesday, 9h, 204")
    Gatarad is a Hebrew mnemonic (Gimel-Teit-Reish-Dalet) for what this rule states, namely that  Rosh HaShanah  is to be postponed when Molad Tishri  of a 12-month year  falls on a Tuesday  (Gimel = 3 = Tuesday)  on or after 9 hours (Teit = 9) and 204 halakim  (Reish = 200, Dalet = 4).

  • Dechiyah #4 :   Betutkafot   ("Monday, 15h, 589")
    Again, Betutkafot is a Hebrew mnemonic for that rule, which states that  Rosh HaShanah  is to be postponed if Molad Tishri  of a year following a 13-month year  occurs on Monday (Beit = 2) on or after 15 hour (Teit-Vav = 9+6 = 15) and 589 halakim (Tav-Qof-Fe-Teit = 400+100+80+9 = 589).

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Torah Search Engine  (4torah.com)
encyclopedia.com   |   Jewish Calendar Tools   |   Judaism 101 (A Closer Look)   |   Jewish Calendar
Jewish Calendar Rules   |   Measuring the Day   |   Jeroboam and the Hillel Calendar
Postponement Controversy in 921 CE   |   The Reformed Jewish Calendar
No Postponement in Temple Times   |   Is Anything Wrong with the Hillel Calendar?
Ancient Hebrew Calendar   |   Controversy in 921 CE   |   Le calendrier juif   |   Wikipedia

 Symbol (2002-12-22)   Zoroastrian Calendar(s)

Zoroastrianism is a monotheist belief system based on righteousness (good thoughts, good words, good deeds).  When it was first preached in Persia by Zarathustra (c.628-c.551 BC), it was opposed to the prevalent cult of Mithras (which demanded sacrifices and advocated the consumption of narcotics and/or intoxicating beverages, then known as Haoma).  Some scholars have considered Zoroastrianism to be a precursor of Christianity.  Although Jews claim him as one of their own, it is generally believed that Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) was Indo-Iranian (Aryan).  He was most probably born in Mazar-I-Sharif (which is now in northern Afghanistan) and was "the son of Pourushaspa, of the Spitaman family".  Zoroaster is said to have given his very first teaching just after being born, in the form of an unusual laughter, telling believers that human life is worth living...

Zoroastrianism is still practiced by about 18 000 people in Iran, chiefly in Shiraz.  It is thriving in India (chiefly around Bombay) and Pakistan (chiefly in Karachi) among Parsis or Parsees, literally "Persians" whose ancestors fled Persia in the wake of the Arab conquest, and subsequent Islamization  ( 7th century AD).  The total number of Zoroastrians is currently estimated to be around 140 000.

The Zoroastrian calendar is based on months of 30 days and has the same basic structure as the ancient Egyptian calendar (and/or the modern Coptic calendar), including 5 extra days after the 12th month, the gatha days.

In the year 1006 CE, the first day of the Zoroastrian year (Noruz) occupied once again its original position at the vernal equinox.  (Incidentally, this would imply that the Zoroastrian calendar originated in 500 BC or so.)  It was then decided to intercalate a whole month every 120 years, to make the long-term average of the Zoroastrian year equal to 365¼ days, and avoid calendar creep with the exact same accuracy as the Julian calendar (in the long run, at least).  This unusual intercalation scheme may have been chosen for religious reasons, which made it difficult to have anything but 5 gatha days at the end of every year.

However, this rule was remembered only once, about 120 years later, and only by the Parsees of India, whose calendar (now called Shahanshahi or Shenshai) has been 30 days late ever since, relative to the original calendar (Qadimi or Kadmi) still kept by Iranian Zoroastrianists.  (Curiously, the discrepancy is said to have gone unnoticed until 1720.)  Both the Shenshai and Kadmi calendars are thus effectively variants of the Egyptian calendar, featuring a constant year of 365 days, without any intercalations.

The Fasli calendar, on the other hand, is a modern Zoroastrian calendar, designed in 1906, in strict alignment with the Gregorian calendar.  The Fasli year always starts on March 21 (the nominal Gregorian vernal equinox) and it consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th "month" of either 5 or 6 days.

Zoroastrianism was made the official religion of Persia by Shapur I, who reigned from 241 to 272, as the second king of the Sassanian Dynasty (AD 224-641).  Regnal years were then used with the Zoroastrian calendar.  The Persian empire was conquered by the Arabs  Atash after the battle of Nehavand in 641 CE, about 10 years after the coronation of the last of the Sassanids, Yazdegird III  [also known (?) as Yazdegerd, Yazdazard, or Yazdegar Sheheryar].

The era of this last Zoroastrian king is abbreviated YZ and has been continued up to the present time:  Year 1 YZ was 631 CE.

Zoroastrian Calendar   |   Zoroastrian Religious Calendar   |   History of the Zoroastrian Calendar
Iranian Calendars & Ancient Yazdgerdi Calendar   |   Persian and Zoroastrian Calendars
Culture of Iran

(2002-12-22)   Signs of the Zodiac & Precession of Equinoxes

This calendar would be totally obsolete, if it was not for the fact that astrologers still use it.  In the last column of the table below is the Gregorian correspondence most often used by "modern" astrologers...

Zodiacal SignPersian MonthFirst Day
AriesFarvardinMarch 21
TaurusOrdibeheshtApril 20
GeminiKhordadMay 21
CancerTirJune 22
LeoMordadJuly 23
VirgoShahrivarAugust 23
LibraMihrSeptember 23
ScorpioAbanOctober 23+
SagittariusAzarNovember 22
CapricornDayDecember 22
AquariusBahmanJanuary 20
PiscesEsphandFebruary 19

About 2000 years ago, when this calendar was presumably devised, the eponymous constellation indicated the correct position of the Sun for the month corresponding to a given zodiacal sign.  Because of the so-called precession of equinoxes, this is no longer true at the present epoch.

In this context, it's important to maintain a clear distinction between 3 related concepts that are often confused: signs, constellations and houses:  Zodiacal signs are simply names given to months within the regular calendar year (synchronized with the tropical year) as tabulated above.  On the other hand, it's clear that 12 constellations were once defined which, unlike modern constellations, divided evenly the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun against the background of "fixed stars").  Such traditional constellations are best referred to as "houses".  We are not aware of any precise historical definition of the exact boundaries between houses (if you know better, let us know).  The 88 constellations of the entire celestial sphere do have precise modern definitions, but these are virtually irrelevant with respect to houses:  There are 13 (!) modern zodiacal constellations with uneven shares of the ecliptic.  The 13th zodiacal constellation is  Ophiuchus,  the Serpent Bearer, which spans the ecliptic between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

The so-called vernal point is the position of the Sun at the spring equinox (it's at the intersection of the ecliptic and the current celestial equator).  It's also known as the "gamma point", after the Greek letter (g) traditionally used in various diagrams.  The precession of the Earth's axis of rotation makes this vernal point go a full circle around the Zodiac in about 26000 years.  Please, do not believe the many sources which tell you that this period is precisely 25920 years.  This would be the case only if the average yearly precession was exactly 50" (1°/ 72), because 25920 = 360 ´ 72.  The latest data available to us at this writing (MHB2000 nutation model) give an average yearly precession of 50.28792(2)", corresponding to a precession period of 25771.597(11) years [about 25772.126(11) Gregorian years].
Some ancient Babylonian astronomers must have known about this, but Hipparchus of Rhodes (190-120 BC) is credited for the first precise description of the phenomenon, which Copernicus would correctly attribute, in 1543, to the changing direction of the Earth's axis of rotation.  The actual dynamical reason for this precession was given by Isaac Newton in 1687:  The Earth "bulges at the Equator", and this oblateness implies that a distant body, like the Moon or the Sun, exerts a nonzero gravitational torque on the Earth, (except, ideally, in the rare symmetrical case when the Earth axis is precisely perpendicular to the direction of the body in question; for the Sun, this would be the configuration at either equinox).  This torque is always "trying" to reduce the tilt of the axis with respect to the direction of the body.  However, the Earth reacts like any rotating body would:  It changes its rotational axis toward the direction of the applied torque (the torque is a vector perpendicular to both the axis of rotation and the direction to the influencing body).  This causes a precession of the axis, instead of the naively expected reduction in tilt.
Traditionally, the time when the vernal point enters a new house marks the dawning of a new "age" (like the Age of Aquarius) which lasts for about 2148 years.  A poor definition of the traditional Zodiacal houses translates into a fuzzy beginning for each such age (a misalignment of 1° corresponds to an error of about 72 years).

(2009-08-17)   Iranian Calendar   [SH = Solar Hejri]
The Persian year  (Anno Persico  or  Anno Persarum).

Like the  lunar  Islamic calendar,  the current Iranian calendar counts its years from the  flight from Mecca  (July 622).  However, it is strictly a  solar  calendar  (the Iranian year begins at the Spring equinox)  whose offset with the Gregorian year remains constant at  622  (it's only  621  between the Gregorian New Year, January 1, and the  Persian New Year, Nowruz).

In March 1925, the Persian parliament enacted calendrical rules which revived the names of the ancient Persian names of the months without giving them their traditional zodiacal duration.  Instead, the first 6 months  (Farvardin to Shahrivar) have 31 days, the following 5 months  (Mehr to Bahman)  have 30 days and the last month (Esphand) has either 29 days or 30 days.

The SH calendar year begins at midnight between the two solar noons  (on the  Tehran standard meridian  at 51.5°E)  which bracket the  vernal equinox.

Wikipedia :   Iranian Calendar(s)

(2018-09-11)   The Ethiopian calendar is a version of the  Julian calendar.
In September of year  N,  Enkutatash  begins Ethiopian year  N-7.

In the current  Gregorian calaendarEnkutatash  occurs on September 11,  except when  N+1  is a leap year  (in which case, it occurs on September 12).  So,  September 11, 2001  was the  first day  of Ethiopian Year  1994.

This calendar is still the main calendar for civil life in  Ethiopia  and is also observed by Erhiopians established abroad.  It's used to set the lithurgical calendar of several related religious communities:

  • Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
  • Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
  • Eastern Catholic Churches.
  • Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

The  Enkutatash  celebration in September marks the beginning of a new Ethiopian year whose number is  7  years behind the current Gregorian year.  For most of the year  (between the Gregorian New Year and Enkutatash)  the two counts are  8  years apart.

The Ethiopian months are identical to the Copt months.

Enkutatash   |   Ethiopian calendar

(2002-12-29)   Mayan Calendar  &  Long Count

The Mayan civil year, the haab consisted of 18 "months" (uinals), of 20 days each, and 5 extra days (which were believed to be unlucky ones), for the same total of 365 days as the Egyptian year.  The Maya knew that the tropical year was closer to 365¼ days, but they chose to keep a constant number of days in each year, and shunned intercalary days (just like the ancient Egyptians).

The Mayan sacred year, the tzolkin, was a cycle of 260 days (the combination of a regular cycle of 13 numbers and of a regular cycle of 20 different signs).

When both calendars are used concurrently, a day is uniquely identified within any period of 18980 days known as a Mayan Calendar Round  (18980 is the lowest common multiple of 365 and 260; it's equal to 52 haabs or 73 tzolkins).

The synodic period of Venus is about 583.9214 days.  The Maya estimated it to be 584 days, which happens to be 8/5 of their haab of 365 days.  Therefore, twice the above Calendar Round is a multiple of the Mayan value of the Venus period.  This period of 37960 days is the Mayan Venus Round, which is equal to 104 haabs, or 146 tzolkins, or [roughly] 65 synodic periods of Venus.

The Long Count

In addition to the above, the Maya used a so-called Long Count to keep track of their historical events.  This was simply the number of days elapsed since the Mayan mythical creation of the World, using the following 5 units:

  • A baktun is 144000 days (20 katuns).
  • A katun is 72000 days (20 tuns).
  • A tun is 360 days (18 uinals).
  • A uinal is 20 days (20 kins).
  • A kin is one day.

Each Mayan vigesimal "digit" could represent a number from 0 to 19, and a Long Count was expressed as a string of 5 such digits, usually transliterated as 5 numbers separated by dots ( baktuns.katuns.tuns.uinals.kins ).

It has been argued that the Maya considered a "Great Cycle" to be 13 baktuns, or 1872000 days (exactly 7200 tzolkins, or over 5125 tropical years).  13 baktuns after its mythical beginning, the Mayan World comes to an end of sorts:  The Mayan tradition would simply reset the long count to when it reaches, on December 21, 2012 CE.

In other words, it seems that the Maya would only give the leading digit of a Long Count modulo 13...  We prefer to ignore that line of thought and advocate the use of leading elements beyond 13 for the Long Count as needed, in the near future.

The "5 digit" Long Count system goes beyond 13 baktuns witout any difficulty, at least until  (Thursday, October 12, 4772).  This gives scholars a couple of millenia to decide what's to be done at that point with the calendrical legacy from the Maya.  The next day (Friday the 13th ;-) would require some innovation, like a sixth "digit" as a coefficient of a counting unit larger than the  baktun.  The Maya themselves devised no less than three such units:  The piktun, kinchiltun and alautun, worth respectively 20, 400 and 8000 baktuns.  An extended 8-digit Long Count based on those 3 additional units would span more than 60 million future years...  By that time, the Sun will still be just as bright as today, but the human species will (most probably) be long gone.

Mayan Calendrical Formulas :

The regularity of the Mayan Long Count makes calendrical formulas trivial...  On a TI-92, TI-89 or Voyage 200  handheld calculator, the function  mayaday  which takes a Long Count (as a list of 5 numbers) and returns the corresponding MJDN can be given the following one-line definition:

(((x[1] 20 + x[2]) 20 + x[3]) 18 + x[4]) 20 + x[5] - 1815718   ®   mayaday (x)

 Mayan Long Count, 
 as a TI-92 function.

Conversely, the screenshot at right shows how to define the function  mayadate  which takes an MJDN and returns the corresponding  Long Count,  as a list of 5 numbers.

Use either function with the functions  day  or  date  to turn a  Long Count  into a Gregorian date, or vice-versa.

Calendopaedia   |   Introduction to the Mayan Calendar   |   Venus and the Mayan CR
Mayan/Christian Correlation   |   Critic of MD/JD Correlation   |   Calendars & the Long Count System

(2003-01-01)   The Chinese Calendar & True Astronomical Motion

The Chinese calendar is an astronomical calendar, which explicitly depends on actual observations and/or delicate predictions of astronomical events.

It's currently used by about one fourth of the World's population (at least for traditional festivals).  Its modern form dates back to 1645 and is due to Father Schall (Johann Adam Schall von Bell, 1591-1666), a catholic missionary who was summoned to Peking in 1630 after the death of Father Terrentius (John Schreck) to take over the task of reforming the traditional Chinese calendar.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

The Mathematics of the Chinese Calendar   |   The Chinese Calendar

(2003-01-12)   Traditional Japanese Calendar

The latest periods in the traditional Japanese calendar system are called Edo, Meiji, Taisho, Showa and Heisei.  Starting with Meiji (1868-1912 CE), the period changes when the Emperor passes away, and years are numbered from the beginning of the period.  In the Edo period (1603-1868 CE), the Japanese calendar was based on its Chinese counterpart, with significant discrepancies due to the different longitudes used for critical observations.  Years were then named using the Chinese 12-year cycle  (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, Pig).  This tradition remains popular today, although Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873.

There was also a so-called Koki calendar based on a continuous count of years from the founding of the Japanese dynasty of Emperor Jimmu Tenno, in 660 BC.  The last two digits of this count were once used by the Japanese military for new or revised equipment.  This is why the "Zero" was so named, since this famous WW II  fighter plane ( Mitsubishi A6M ) appeared in 1940, Koki year 2600.

Japanese Calendar   |   Japan File   |   Lunar Calendar in Japan

(2003-01-03)   The Indian Calendar & The Solar Month

The National Calendar of India was last reformed in 1957:  Its leap years coincide with those of the Gregorian calendar, but years begin at the vernal equinox and are counted from the Saka Era (the spring equinox of 79 CE).

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Indian Calendars

    A minor issue is the inept pattern of month lengths, which the Gregorian calendar inherited from the calendar reform of Augustus.  Originally the Julian calendar was more rational:  It had long months of 31 days alternating with short months of 30 days, with the sole exception of one month obeying the regular pattern in leap years, but one day shorter in other years.  If it had not been for the Roman belief that even numbers were unlucky, the best scheme would have been to shorten a long month, but it was decided instead to shorten the short month of February (30 days in a leap year, 29 days otherwise).
(2003-01-10)   Post-Gregorian Calendars

There are intercalation patterns of leap years which could make the Gregorian calendar even more accurate in the very long term, while being consistent with the Gregorian rules for dates of the past (back to 1582 CE) and the near future.  However, proposals for such millenarian rules must be carefully evaluated in the framework presented here.

The Gregorian year is currently the best calendar approximation there is to the tropical year (which governs our seasons).  In a Gregorian cycle of 400 years, there are 97 leap years of 366 days and 303 regular years of 365 days, which makes the mean Gregorian year equal to 365.2425 days.

Although the issue is entirely irrelevant to calendar design, note that the above "mean" year is less than the "time-average" of a Gregorian year:  If we record daily the length of the current year in days (365 or 366) over a complete Gregorian cycle of 146097 days, the number 365 will be recorded 110595 times, whereas 366 will be recorded 35502 times, which makes the "time-average" exceed 365.2430029 days...

A solar calendar should be engineered to make the long-term ratio of the number of days to the number of elapsed calendar years (365.2425 for the Gregorian calendar) as close as possible to the observed number of days in a tropical year, which is slightly less than 365.2422.  At first, it would seem easy to reform the Gregorian calendar (by dropping a leap year once in a great while) in order to make the mean calendar year closer to this target number.

For example, if a rule were added to turn into ordinary years the years divisible by 3200 (which are leap years according to Gregorian rules), the mean calendar year would become 365.2421875 days.
      At least two other ideas have been floating around which are not as good as this one (because they are rooted in somewhat obsolete 19th century data).  The most popular one may have appeared around 1834 and is usually attributed either to Mary Somerville (after whom a college has been named at Oxford) or to John Herschel (1792-1871, son of the discoverer of Uranus).  It consists in turning multiples of 4000 into ordinary years, so the mean calendar year would become 365.24225 days.  Another idea (which is incompatible with Gregorian rules, except between 1601 and 2799) states that multiples of 100 should be leap years only when equal to either 200 or 600, modulo 900.  This rule would put 365.242222... days in a mean calendar year  (incidentally, just as if multiples of 3600 were made regular years).  In 1923, the Greeks switched from the Julian calendar and may have adopted this rule (we can only hope they'll recant before 2800).

However, all such efforts may be misguided, since the above target is a moving one (mainly because tidal braking keeps making our days longer).  To put it bluntly, a millenarian rule for leap years could be all but obsolete before coming into play, as long as it remains based only on the current number of days in a tropical year...  Let's see what the actual numbers are:

The definition of the ephemeris seconds makes the instantaneous value of the tropical year "at epoch 1900.0" exactly equal to 31556925.9747 ephemeris seconds.  Since the definition of the modern SI second was precisely engineered to make it virtually indistinguishable from an ephemeris second, we may as well take the above as the exact duration of the 1900.0 tropical year, in SI seconds.

There are exactly 86400 ephemeris seconds in an ephemeris day (by definition of the latter), but this ephemeris day is an abstract unit of time, which is irrelevant to the calendar structure.  What we need is a precise estimate of the 1900.0 duration of a mean solar day, because actual solar days is what calendars are meant to count.  In fact, for historical reasons, the mean solar day was precisely equal to 86400 seconds around 1820 or 1826, and has been increasing at a rate of roughly 2 ms per century ever since.  In this context, a "second" (s) is an SI second, a unit now defined in atomic terms, which is virtually indistinguishable from the ephemeris second (it's not the solar second, which is defined as 1/86400 of the mean solar day, whose variable duration we are evaluating).  All told, the mean solar day of 1900.0 would have been about 86400.0016 s.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Calendar Reform   |   Astronomical Leap Year Rule   |   Vernal Equinox 1788-2211

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