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Calendar reform

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Calendar reform, properly calendrical reform, is any significant revision of a calendar system. The term sometimes is used instead for a proposal to switch to a different calendar.

Most calendars have several rules which could be altered by reform:

  • Whether and how days are grouped into subdivisions such as months and weeks, and days outside those subdivisions, if any.
  • Which years are leap years and common years and how they differ.
  • Numbering of years, selection of the epoch, and the issue of year zero.
  • Start of the year (such as the December solstice, January 1, March 1, March equinox, March 25).
  • If a week is retained, the start, length, and names of its days.
  • Start of the day (midnight, sunrise, noon, or sunset).
  • If months are retained, number, lengths, and names of months,
  • Special days and periods (such as leap day or intercalary day).
  • Alignment with social cycles.
  • Alignment with astronomical cycles.
  • Alignment with biological cycles.
  • Literal notation of dates.

Historical reforms

Historically, most calendar reforms have been made in order to synchronize the calendar with the astronomical year (either solar or sidereal) and/or the synodic month in lunar or lunisolar calendars. Most reforms for calendars have been to make them more accurate. This has happened to various lunar and lunisolar calendars, and also the Julian calendar when it was altered to the Gregorian calendar.

The fundamental problems of the calendar are that the astronomical year has neither a whole number of days nor a whole number of lunar months; neither does the lunar month have a whole number of days: in each case there are fractions "left over". (In some physical circumstances the rotations and revolutions of a planet and its satellite(s) can be phase-locked —for example the same side of the moon always faces us— but this has not operated to lock together the lengths of the Earth's year, day and month.) Such remainders could accumulate from one period to the next, thereby driving the cycles out of synch.

A typical solution to force synchronization is 'intercalation'. This means occasionally adding an extra day (or month) into the cycle. An alternative approach is to ignore the mismatch and simply let the cycles continue to drift apart. The general approaches include:

  • The lunar calendar, which fits days into the cycle of lunar months, adding an extra day when needed, while ignoring the annual solar cycle of the seasons.
  • The solar calendar, which fits artificial months into the year, adding an extra day into one month when needed, while ignoring the lunar cycle of new/full moons.
  • The lunisolar calendar, which keeps both the lunar and solar cycles, adding an extra month into the year when needed.

An obvious disadvantage of the lunisolar method of inserting a whole extra month is the large irregularity of the length of the year from one to the next. The simplicity of a lunar calendar has always been outweighed by its inability to track the seasons, and a solar calendar is used in conjunction to remedy this defect. Identifying the lunar cycle month requires straightforward observation of the Moon on a clear night. However, identifying seasonal cycles requires much more methodical observation of stars or a device to track solar day-to-day progression, such as that established at places like Stonehenge. After centuries of empirical observations, the theoretical aspects of calendar construction could become more refined, enabling predictions that identified the need for reform.

Reform of lunar and lunisolar calendars

There have been 50 to 100 reforms of the traditional Chinese calendar over 2500 years, most of which were intended to better fit the calendar months to astronomical lunations and to more accurately add the extra month so that the regular months maintain their proper seasonal positions, even though each seasonal marker can occur anywhere within its month. There have been at least four similar reforms of the lunisolar version of the Hindu calendar, all intended to make the month a better match to the lunation and to make the year a better fit to the sidereal year. There have been reforms of the solar version of the Hindu calendar which changed the distribution of the days in each month to better match the length of time that the Sun spends in each sidereal zodiacal sign. The same applies to the Buddhist calendar. The first millennium reform of the Hebrew calendar changed it from an observational calendar into a calculated calendar. The Islamic calendar was a reform of the preceding lunisolar calendar which completely divorced it from the solar year.

Julian/Gregorian reforms

When Julius Caesar took power in Rome, the Roman calendar had ceased to reflect the year accurately.[citation needed]

The Julian reform lengthened seven months and replaced the intercalary month with an intercalary day to be inserted within February every four years. This produced a noticeably more accurate calendar, but it was based on a length for the year of 365 days and 6 hours (365.25 d).[citation needed] This had the effect of adding about three-quarters of an hour every four years. The effect accumulated from inception in 45 BC until by the 16th century the northward equinox was falling on March 10 or 11.

William Hogarth’s An Election Entertainment includes a banner with the protest slogan against the Gregorian calendar: "Give us our Eleven days" (on floor at lower right)

Under Pope Gregory XIII the leap year rule was altered: century years which are not divisible by 400 would be common years. So 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are not leap years. This rule makes the mean year 365.2425 days (365 d, 5 h, 49 min, 12 s) long. While this does not synchronize the years entirely, it would require a few thousand years to accumulate a day.[citation needed]

So that the northward equinox would have the same date in the new Gregorian calendar as it had when the Council of Nicaea made recommendations in AD 325 (March 21), ten days were dropped so that October 5 became October 15 in 1582. This reform took a few centuries to spread through the nations that used the Julian calendar, although the Russian church year still uses the Julian calendar. Those nations that adopted this calendar on or after 1700 had to drop more than ten days: Great Britain, for instance, dropped eleven.[citation needed]

In 1923, Milutin Milanković proposed to a synod of some Eastern Orthodox Churches at Constantinople that only those centennial years (those ending in 00) that leave a remainder of 200 or 600 upon division by 900 would be leap years, decreasing the average year length to 365.242222 days. These remainders were chosen to delay the first year (after 1923) that this calendar would disagree with the Gregorian calendar as much as possible, until 2800. It was adopted by some Eastern Orthodox Churches under the names Revised Julian calendar or New calendar, but was rejected by others.


The Gregorian calendar is currently used by most of the world. There is also an international standard describing the calendar, ISO 8601, with some differences to traditional conceptions in many cultures.

Since the papal reform in 1582 several proposals have been offered to make the Gregorian calendar more useful or regular. Very few reforms have gained official acceptance. The rather different decimal French Republican Calendar was one such official reform, but was abolished twelve years later by Napoleon. After World War II the newly formed United Nations continued efforts of its predecessor, the League of Nations, to establish the proposed World Calendar but postponed the issue after a veto from the government of the United States, which was mainly based upon concerns of religious groups about the proposed days that would be outside the seven-day week cycle ("blank days") and thus disrupt having a sabbath every seven days. Independently the World Council of Churches still tries to find a common rule for the date of Easter,[1] which might be eased by a new common calendar.

360 ÷ 7 = 51 37 360 ÷ 12 = 30
364 ÷ 7 = 52 = 4 × 13 364 ÷ 12 = 30 13
365 ÷ 7 = 52 17 365 ÷ 12 = 30 512
366 ÷ 7 = 52 27 366 ÷ 12 = 30 12

Reformers cite several problems with the Gregorian calendar:

  • It is not perennial. Each year starts on a different day of the week and calendars expire every year.
  • It is difficult to determine the weekday of any given day of the year or month.
  • Months are not equal in length, nor regularly distributed across the year, and so some people rely on mnemonics (e.g., "Thirty days hath September" or knuckle counting) to remember the lengths of months.
  • The year's four quarters (of three full months each) are not equal (being of 90/91, 91, 92 and 92 days respectively). Business quarters that are equal would make accounting easier.
  • Its epoch (origin) is religious. The same applies to month and weekday names in many languages.
  • Each month has no connection with the lunar phases.
  • Solstices and equinoxes do not coincide with either the beginning of the Gregorian months, or the midpoint of the months.

It is hard, or even impossible to solve all these issues in just one calendar.

Most plans evolve around the solar year of little more than 365 days. This number does not divide well by seven or twelve, which are the traditional numbers of days per week and months per year respectively. The nearby numbers 360, 364 and 366 are divisible in better ways. There are also lunar centric proposals.

Comparison of proposed solar calendar reforms (Gregorian/ISO Date equivalents)
Author New Year's Day Jan
13 Extra calendrical days Intercalary days Starts at
Comte Monday,
Jan 1 (01.01)
28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 Festival of the Dead (13.29), Festival of Holy Women (13.30) Festival of Holy Women (13.30)
Cotsworth Monday,
Jan 1 (01.01)
28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 Leap D. (07.00), Year Day (13.29) Leap D. (07.00) (W27.0)
Colligan Sunday,
Jan 1
28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 Leap week 13.1-7 moving Dec from 13 to 14
Achelis Sunday,
Jan 1
31 30 30 31 30 30 31 30 30 31 30 30 World Leap D. (Jun 31/ 07.00), World D. (Dec 31/ 12.31) World Leap D. (Jun 31/ 07.00) (W27.0)
Asimov Sunday,
N. Winter Solstice, 01.01
91 91 91 91 D-92 (04.92), B-92 (02.92) B-92 (02.92) (W27.0)
Bromberg Monday,
Jan 1
28 35 28 28 35 28 28 35 28 28 35 28 Dec 29–35
Jan 1
30 30 31 30 30 31 30 30 31 30 30 31 * CCC&T: Newton 07.1–7, moves following months forward 1
HHPC: Extra 13.1-7
Cesare Emiliani Jan 1 31 28 31 30 31 30 31 31 30 31 30 31 Same as Gregorian January 1, 10000 BC

Perennial calendars

Many calendar reforms have offered solutions to make the Gregorian calendar perennial. These reforms would make it easy to work out the day of the week of a particular date, and would make changing calendars each year unnecessary. There are, roughly speaking, two options to achieve this goal: leap week calendars and intercalary days. Leap week calendars add a leap week of seven days to the calendar every five or six years to keep the calendar roughly in step with the tropical year. They have years of either 364 days (52 weeks) or 371 days (53 weeks), thus preserving the 7-day week.

Proposals mainly differ in their selection of a leap rule, placing of the leap item (usually middle or end of the year), in the start day of the week and year, in the number (12 or 13) and size of months and in connected naming; some are compatible to the week date of ISO 8601.

The World Calendar, favored by the UN in the 1950s, and the International Fixed Calendar, quite popular among economists between the World Wars, are proposals that start each year on a Sunday. The 364 days within the week system form 52 weeks of 7 days. The World Calendar has every quarter beginning on the same day of the week. In the World Calendar, the 365th and 366th day are considered holidays and named Worlds Day and Leap Year Day. These "off-calendar" days stand outside the seven-day week and caused some religious groups to strongly oppose adoption of The World Calendar. Such concerns helped prevent the World Calendar from being adopted. Supporters of the World Calendar, however, argue that the religious groups' opposition overlooked every individual's right to celebrate these holidays as extra days of worship, or Sabbaths. This option, they reason, maintained the seven-day worship cycle for those who share that concern, while allowing benefits of a perennial calendar to be shared by all.

Some calendar reform ideas, such as the Pax Calendar, Symmetry454 calendar and the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, were created to solve this problem by having years of either 364 days (52 weeks) or 371 days (53 weeks), thus preserving the 7-day week. The 53-week calendar, used in government and in business for fiscal years, is a variant of this concept. Each year of this calendar can be up to 371 days long.

Some calendars have quarters of regularly patterned uneven months e.g., a 35-day (five-week) month and a pair of 28-day (four-week) months, with a leap week appended to the final month when needed. The Common Civil Calendar and Time calendar, known now as the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, has months of 30 and 31 days, but inserts a leap week in the middle of the year, when needed.

In the World Season Calendar, months are discarded altogether; instead, the year is divided into four seasons of 13 weeks each. An extra day (two days during leap year) is added to the calendar that is not assigned a day of the week in order to perennialize the calendar. The same calendar of 91 days is used for each season of every year.

Still other proposals, like the 30x11 Calendar, abandon attempts to make the calendar perennial, instead opting for eleven 30-day months and one long month at the end of 35 (or 36) days.

13-month calendars

Some calendar reformers seek to equalize the length of each month in the year. This is often accomplished by creating a calendar that has 13 months of 4 weeks (28 days) each, making 364 days. The earliest known proposal of this type was the Georgian Calendar (1745)[2] by Rev. Hugh Jones.

The Positivist calendar (1849), created by Auguste Comte, was based on a 364-day year which included one or two “blank” days. Each of the 13 months had 28 days and exactly four weeks, and each started on a Monday. The International Fixed Calendar is a more modern descendant of this calendar.

Some proposals add one or two days to the calendar each year to account for the annual solar cycle, while others keep these days off the calendar entirely, to make the calendar perennial.

Around 1930 Colligan invented the Pax Calendar, which avoids off-calendar days by adding a 7-day leap week to the 364-day common year for 71 out of 400 years.

In 1993, José Argüelles and Lloydine Argüelles founded The World Thirteen Moon Calendar Change Peace Movement.

Dividing the years into 52 weeks creates 13 months of 28 days (4 weeks), and 4 quarters of 91 days (13 weeks). This creates months and quarters of fixed, even duration, but not quarters containing a whole number of months.

19-month calendar

The Bahá'í calendar, established by the founders of the Bahá'í Faith, does not seek to reform the Gregorian calendar, but establishes a purely solar calendar. As of 2015, the year always starts in spring on the sunset to sunset day of the vernal equinox (calculated in advance). This calendar has 19 months of 19 days, with an extra 4 or 5 intercalary days added so that the year ends on the day before the next vernal equinox.

Lunisolar calendars

Lunisolar calendars usually have 12 or 13 months of 29 or 30 days. Some propose to improve leap rules of existing calendars, such as the Hebrew calendar. The Rectified Hebrew calendar uses a more accurate leap cycle of 4366 months per 353-year cycle, with 130 leap years per cycle, and a progressively shorter molad interval, intended to replace the 19-year leap cycle and the constant molad interval of the traditional fixed arithmetic Hebrew calendar, respectively.


Calendar proposals that introduce a thirteenth month or change the Julian-Gregorian system of months often also propose new names for these months. New names have also been proposed for days out of the week cycle (e.g., 365th and leap) and weeks out of the month cycle.

Proposals to change the traditional month and weekday names are less frequent. The Gregorian calendar obtains its names mostly from gods of historical religions (e.g., Thursday from Nordic Thor or March from Roman Mars) or leaders of vanished empires (July and August from the first Cæsars), or ordinals that got out of synchronization (September through December, originally seventh through tenth, now ninth through twelfth).

Calendar reformers, therefore, seek to correct what they see as deficiencies by focusing on more homogeneous sets of individuals, who usually share common traits.


Comte’s Positivist calendar, for example, proposed naming the 13 months in his calendar after figures from religion, literature, philosophy and science. Similarly, the Hermetic Lunar Week Calendar uses 12 or 13 lunar months named after 13 contributors to research on psychoactive plants and chemicals. The Simple Lunisolar Calendar names its months after the letters of the Greek alphabet.

Some, such as Karl Palmen,[3] have suggested reusing an existing 13 × 4 naming system, the one found in playing cards. Thus either months are numbered Ace, Two through Ten, Jack, Queen and King with four weeks each, named after the four suits (♠♣♥♦); or the roles are reversed if the calendar has four quarters with thirteen weeks each. Leap days or weeks are assigned the Joker. This system has internationalisation problems, though, because even where the 52-card deck is known, the order of suits may vary.

The contemporary ISO basic Latin alphabet has 26 letters, which could be used, together with a further binary indicator, as keys for 52 weeks.

Specific proposals

Main article: List of calendars

There have been many specific calendar proposals to replace the Gregorian calendar:

The following count one or more days outside the standard seven-day week:

The following are leap week calendars:

The following track the moon as well as the sun:

  • Hermetic Lunar Week Calendar
  • Rectified Hebrew calendar

There have also been proposals to revise the way years are numbered:

Reform of the Islamic calendar:

Since the beginning of the 21st century, there is a trend within the Muslim communities of North America and Europe to substitute a lunar calendar based on calculations for the traditional Islamic method of monthly observation of the new moon to declare the beginning of the new month in each country separately. The details are in the following study:

See also

Precursors of the Gregorian reform


Further reading

External links