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Old Christmas Day, Some Christmas Trivia

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Published: 5 Dec 2012      

Until Julius Caesar’s time the Roman year was organised round the phases of the moon. For many reasons this was inaccurate, so on the advice of his astronomers, Julius created a calendar centred round the sun. It was decreed that one year was to consist of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, divided into twelve months; the month of Quirinus was renamed 'July' to commemorate the Julian reform. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of leap years, the Julian calendar overestimated the length of the year by eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which comes to one day every on hundred and twenty-eight years. By the sixteenth century the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by Pope Gregory XIII removed the eleven minutes fifteen seconds off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days. This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic Europe.

Protestant Europe was not going to be told what day it was by the Pope, so it kept to the old Julian calendar. This meant thatLondonwas a full ten days ahead ofParis. By the timeEnglandcame round to adopting the Gregorian calendar, in the middle of the eighteenth century,Englandwas eleven days ahead of the Continent.

A Calendar Act was passed in 1751 which stated that in order to bring England into line, the day following the 2nd of September 1752 was to be called the 14th, rather than the 3rd of September. Unfortunately, many people were not able to understand this simple manoeuvre and thought that the government had stolen eleven days of their lives. In some parts there were riots and shouts of 'give us back our eleven days!'

Before the calendar was reformed,Englandcelebrated Christmas on the equivalent of the 6th of January by our modern, Gregorian reckoning. That is why in some parts ofGreat Britainpeople still call the 6th of January, Old Christmas Day.