Monday, March 6, 2017

Sweden, the Gregorian Calendar, and the Double Leap Year of 1712

Not a lot happened in 1582. As far as world events go, it was pretty quiet. 1582 was, however the year of  the reform of the Julian calendar, which was a pretty big deal.

Pope Gregory XIII decided that some major changes were needed in the Catholic church. Germanic countries were leaving the faith left and right, and this upstart priest kept nailing things to church doors. Gregory implemented many of the changes decided upon in the Council of Trent, but he also decided to reform the calendar, because the Julian calendar was downright inaccurate.

Image result for pope gregory xiii
Gregory XIII in his fancy tiara
Why was the Julian calendar inaccurate, you ask. Well, according to the Julian calendar every year has 365.25 days. In actuality, a day is eleven minutes short of that easy number, which I think we can all agree was a bit of a dick move on the part of Mother Nature. This meant that by our friend Greg's time the Julian calendar was a wee bit inaccurate. The Julian calendar had been in use for over 1,600 yeas. Eleven minutes over more than a millennia starts to add up after a while, and the Julian calendar was about two weeks ahead of time when Pope Gregory was kicking it in the Vatican. This wouldn't have been much of an issue, except it made scheduling Easter a little difficult, and that really would not do. So Pope Gregory decided to adopt a new calendar.

Gregory's calendar was a major success in Catholic countries like Poland, Italy, France and Spain, but Protestants viewed it with suspicion. Protestants were convinced that this new calendar was yet another way that the Catholic Church was trying to control the world. Obviously, the whole political point of Protestantism was to avoid that, so Protestant nations told the Pope to go to hell, and continued in their Julian ways for quite some time.

Slowly, however, most nations relented. It was a bit difficult to be out of sync with the rest of the world. Turkey was the last hold out, and put off adopting the calendar untilf 1927. To get in sync with the Gregorian calendar, most nations dropped days from their calendar. The Americans lost most of September in 1752, as did the English and Canadians. However, when Sweden adopted the calendar in 1712, the proposed to add two days to February.

Sweden at the time also encompassed the nation of Finland, and 1712 would normally have been a leap year, as under the Julian calendar all years divisible by four are leap years (including years that end in 100 that aren't divisible by 400). However, to get in sync with the shiny new(ish) Gregorian calendar, the Swedes added an extra day, bringing around the once-in-a-lifetime February 30th.

Unfortunately, nothing momentous seems to have happened in Sweden on that day. It was a bit of a slow news week. Nobody important was born, and nothing big happened, at least as far as I can find. It's a shame really. February 30th only came around (for Sweden anyways) once, you would think that someone would have made a big deal out of it. But no luck. Were it not for the oddity of the date, February 30, 1712 would have been just another boring day in history.


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Sources

Gregorian Calendar
Time and Date
Julian vs. Gregorian (first two pages)
February 30
Pope Gregory

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