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5 Dates You Won't Find on Your Calendar

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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

While you may be a bit fuzzy on which months have 30 days and which have 31, it’s safe to say you’re pretty familiar with the months and days of the year. But due to unusual record-keeping practices or because of months that were eliminated over the centuries, there are a few days you’ll never see on your joke-a-day calendar.

1. January 0

At midnight every New Year’s Eve, we go from December 31 to January 1. Simple, right? That’s how it works for everyone ... except astronomers. Each year, astronomers keep track of the movements of various planets and stars, which are compiled into what’s called an ephemeris. While it’s useful for things like space travel and positioning telescopes, GPS systems also use the data to properly function.

The thing about ephemerides (the plural of ephemeris) is that they don’t reference any year other than the one for which they were written. So if you had an ephemeris for the year 2000, you wouldn’t find any mention of 1999 or 2001. Generally speaking, it shouldn’t be necessary, though, since it’s only for that particular year anyway.

Except when you referenced January 1, that is. Because some more detailed ephemerides will list the previous day’s celestial positions for reference purposes, the ephemeris would have to have information for December 31. But, since the ephemeris doesn’t refer to any other year, this date will instead often be called January 0. Going back to our year 2000 example, an ephemeris for that year might list Prince’s favorite day, December 31, 1999, as January 0, 2000 instead. 

It’s worth noting that many modern day ephemerides have dropped the use of January 0 entirely, but there are others that still use it

And back in the 1920s, several groups lobbied for a calendar with 13 months, each with four weeks. To reach 365 days, their plan was to add "January 0."

2. February 30

You may have a friend or relative in your life whose birthday is February 29. Maybe they fudge it and celebrate on February 28 or March 1 every year, or possibly they just have a mega-party every four years. (Or they have a mega-party every year, because why not.) So imagine how frustrating it’d be to have been born in the Swedish Empire on February 30, 1712, the only day of its kind in history. 

Naturally, it was a pretty complex set of events that led to February 1712 getting two leap days. Our modern, Western calendar is called the Gregorian calendar, which was developed under Pope Gregory XIII. It’s basically just a series of improvements to the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar.

While the Gregorian calendar was completed in 1582, adoption by many countries was slow, so it took over 100 years for the Swedish Empire (which was primarily Protestant and not Catholic) to adopt it. Because the Julian to Gregorian swap included a difference of ten days, many regions simply skipped their calendar ahead a week and a half. The Swedish Empire decided to roll out the difference more gradually, and intended to skip leap days for forty years, starting in 1700, until the calendar was finally correct.

Except that didn’t happen because, shortly afterward, war broke out and everyone forgot about the leap days until 1712, when Sweden’s King, Charles (or Karl) XII, declared that they would forget about the Gregorian calendar and just switch back to the Julian instead. Since they did manage to skip one leap day, in 1700 (which was a leap year under the Julian calendar, but not the Gregorian), they simply decided to add it back onto the calendar that February—meaning that February 1712 had two leap days according to Sweden’s calendar, which gave them the only February 30 in history. (Sweden finally went through with the Gregorian switch in 1753 and just skipped ahead a few days, like everyone else.) 

3. March 0

While you could think of February 30 as some weird kind of March 0, they’re not the same thing (though they do both involve leap years). If someone asked you what the day before March 1 is, you’d probably ask them, “What year?” March 0 is, like January 0, simply a reference to the day before it, but it’s useful since March 0 can be either February 28 or 29, depending on the year.

While this is occasionally used in software (some old versions of Microsoft Excel will accept 3/0 as a date and simply plug in the correct day for the particular year, for example), it’s more commonly found in something known as the Doomsday rule.

It sounds fairly ominous, but the Doomsday rule is just a method for calculating what day of the year falls on for any given date. For example, by following the Doomsday rule, you could quickly tell that January 19, 1481 was a Wednesday. How? By figuring out what creator John Conway calls “the Doomsday.” This is the day of the week that certain calendar days will always fall on in a given year. April 4, June 6, and August 8 are just a few days of the year that will always fall on that year’s Doomsday. Another big one? March 0, i.e., the final day of February.

So, using 1481 as our example again, you can use a formula to determine that its Doomsday was Monday. (For the record, 2013’s Doomsday is Thursday.) From there, we could quickly ascertain that March 0 was a Monday, and for that particular year, February only had 28 days (since it was not a leap year), making “March 0” Monday, February 28, 1481. If you’re mathematically-minded, it’s a fun challenge. If you’re not, well, you can always look the day up on the internet or use a Doomsday calculator.

4. Undecimber and Duodecimber

There aren’t just odd and unusual days of the year. There are entire months as well. Remember the episode of The Simpsons where the school ordered faulty calendars with a 13th month (called Smarch)? Well, as it happens, we kind of had that once upon a time—namely, those left over from the days of the Roman calendar, which preceded the aforementioned Julian calendar. Much like how the process of moving from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar left a few odd days out, the move from the Roman calendar to the Julian one actually added some.

These days, 67 in all, were then added into a pair of months between the November and December of 45 BC, and were referred to as intercalaris prior and intercalaris posterior, which are often called Undecimber (pronounced like “oon,” not “uhn”) and Duodecimber in modern days.

These names refer to the fact that December is named after the Latin word for ten (which itself came from the fact that the Roman calendar originally only had ten months and not twelve), while the Latin words for eleven and twelve (or in this case, thirteen and fourteen) are undecim and duodecim.

What’s more, the terms have even come to be used in modern computing. The Java programming language includes support for a 13-month calendar, and it refers to the 13th month as Undecimber

5. Mercedonius

Speaking of the Roman calendar, by the time Julius Caesar came along, it hadn’t had ten months for quite a while. Nearly 600 years, in fact. The Roman calendar that Caesar reformed was itself a reformed calendar constructed by King (not Emperor) Numa Pompilius sometime in the 7th century BC.

Prior to Pompilius’ changes, the Roman calendar, as we mentioned, had ten months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. (Quintilis was later renamed Julius after Julius Caesar himself, while Sextilis was changed to Augustus in honor of his son/grand-nephew, Caesar Augustus.) King Numa Pompilius added Januarius and Februarius, giving us the twelve months we have today … except he also added another, forgotten month that hasn’t been in use for millennia: Mercedonius

Mercedonius was a kind of a leap month, situated between Februarius and Martius, and was approximately 27 days. Although there was apparently some kind of formula to determine in which years Mercedonius was used and in which years it wasn’t, the implementation was spotty, since it was up to whoever the current Pontifex Maximus was at the time to decide if the month was used or not.

Since the month was used so sloppily, Julius Caesar simply eliminated it entirely when constructing the Julian calendar, rearranged the days throughout the year, and made a simple, easy-to-follow leap day system. 

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Why Was February Chosen for Black History Month?
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iStock

Every February since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during Black History Month. The month-long celebration puts those accomplishments and milestones in focus via the media and in classrooms.

But why February? Was that part of the calendar chosen for any specific purpose?

It was. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was bothered by the fact that many textbooks and other historical reviews minimized or ignored the contributions of black figures. Along with his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History—later the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—Woodson earmarked the second week in February to raise awareness of these stories.

Woodson chose that week specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). The ensuing publicity led many mayors and college campuses to recognize the week; through the years, the groundswell of support allowed the occasion to stretch throughout the entire month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official, saying that he was urging everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
211 Years Ago Today, the French Abandoned Their Decimal Calendar
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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain

In 1793, the French switched to French Revolutionary Time, creating a decimal system of time. A day had 10 hours, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute. The system was elegant, doing away with the complex math required for time calculations under a 24 hour/60 minute/60 second system. But it also brought huge headaches.

French Revolutionary Time came alongside the French Republican Calendar, a further attempt to rationalize time. Months were divided into three 10-day weeks, and there were 12 months. The leftover days needed to add up to 365 or 366 for the year were tacked onto the end of the year as holidays. This was a bit inelegant (days and years being hard to divide cleanly by 10), but at least it was less confusing than trying to sort out what time "noon" was (it was 5 o'clock).

French Revolutionary Time only lasted 17 months. By April 7, 1795 (in the Gregorian calendar), the time system became optional. Decimal clocks and decimal/standard hybrid clocks continued to be used for years, but for practicality, France returned to the same system of time as its neighbors.

The French Republican Calendar lasted far longer. It began in late 1793 and ran all the way through the end of 1805 (again in the Gregorian reckoning). On December 31, 1805, the French government chucked the system—in the year XIV, by Republican reckoning. This was due, of course, to the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor. (Incidentally, his coronation occurred on 11 Frimaire, Year XIII of the French Republican Calendar—also known as 2 December, 1804. It took him more than a year to roll back the revolutionary calendar.) In any case, January 1, 1806 rolled around using the Gregorian calendar and the rest is history.

Of course, all this calendar-nerd stuff leads to the fact that you could still choose to use the French Republican Calendar. Indeed, Wikipedia will tell you the current day and year using the system, although you'll want to read up on the exquisite problems related to leap years (also helpfully detailed on Wikipedia).

For a bit more on decimal time (including several modern variants), check out our article Decimal Time: How the French Made a 10-Hour Day.

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