Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Washington’s Birthday Surprise — Nineteen Days Hath September

GEWA National MonumentGrowing up on the Eastern seaboard, I got a healthy dose of George Washington knowledge back in public school in the 60s and 70s, well before homeschooling was considered an option for perfectly sane people. But sometime during my adult years, perhaps when I was researching George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument in Virginia for a field trip a few years back, I finally learned that George Washington was actually NOT born on February 22nd.  Say what?!  Right away I’m thinking it’s another instance of government meddling for convenience sake — they moved it so there’d be evenly spaced holidays or something like that.

Well, as it turns out, George Washington’s birthday was really on February 11th, 1731.  This was back in the day when the Julian calendar was in effect and March 25th marked the beginning of the new year.  That’s right, so on the evening of March 24th, everyone got out their whirlygigs and tambourines and risked their lives setting off homemade explosives for the grand new years’ celebration. 

Sorry Julius Caesar — at least you still have that month named after you, which is more than George can say.

It was only with the advent (yeah, pun intended) of the Gregorian calendar that people born before 1752 were asked to add 11 days to their date of birth and the New Year’s Day was moved to January 1st.  So in one fell swoop, George had to wait an additional 11 days before he reached the exciting age of 21, and even more confusing, his year of birth switched from 1731 to 1732.  How bizarre is that? George, in a rare display of stubbornness (hehe), continued to celebrate his birthday on the 11th for the rest of his life.

The calendar switcheroo happened in September, 1752.  To account for the adjustment, September 3rd through September 13th simply didn’t happen.  The new year of 1753 began on January 1st for the first time in England and the Colonies.  Confused?  You oughta be.  Hopefully our dear astronomers won’t find another reason to change everything around again during our lifetime.  On second thought, I could really use an 8-day week and permanent four-day weekends… Who do I call?

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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