This New Year’s Day, the whole world, whether they realize it or not, celebrates the beginning of the two-thousand fifteenth Anno Domini based on the calculations of a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. Prior to that time, dates in the Christian world were given as either the regnal year of the Roman emperors or as a relative time which had elapsed from the election of a new consul. In addition, the tradition of calculating years relative to the founding of the city of Rome is continued to the present with the Christmas proclamation which gives the year of the Nativity as 752 AUC (i.e., ab urbe condita).
In the millennia since the birth of Our Lord, there have been other notable calendar systems used or proposed, some purposefully designed to suppress religion in public life, but none of them has succeeded in that aim. Indeed, even where other cultures continue to use their traditional calendar systems, they do so in parallel with the Gregorian calendar which has become the de facto international standard. Here’s a sampling of some of the most unusual calendars which never caught on:Bonaparte Crossing the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass by Jacques Louis David, 1802
1. French Republican Calendar
From 1792 to 1805, the radically atheist and anti-Catholic revolutionary government of France instituted a new calendar system which renamed the months and days of the week to completely eliminate all Christian influences. Instead of a seven-day week ending with Dimanche–literally, “the Lord’s Day”–the Republican calendar had a ten day week ending with the creatively-named “tenth day.” Each of the 12 months had exactly three weeks and was renamed with an agricultural or meteorological theme. At the end of the year, the problem of leap years was solved with an extra half-week with 5 or 6 “complementary days” that was reserved as a national celebration of human ingenuity and talents. Realizing that it was impractical for France to use a different calendar than the rest of Europe, Napoleon finally abolished it.Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943
2. Soviet Calendar
From 1918 to 1940, the Communist government of Russia adopted a modified version of the Gregorian calendar. Prior to that time, Russia was still using the Julian calendar, so this was actually somewhat of an improvement. However, the weeks were reconfigured to initially have five and later six days color-coded and assigned randomly to each worker as a day of rest. Thus, it happened that even within a family, one person might be assigned “red” as the day of rest and another might have “green.” This had the desired effect of preventing families from gathering to worship even clandestinely but it also had the unintended consequence of degrading industrial production as there was no downtime to make repairs to machinery in the factories. Especially in rural areas, the seven-day week continued to be observed in practice and was finally restored by Stalin’s decree as Russia rapidly industrialized in the early years of the Second World War.Karl XII of Sweden by David von Krafft, c. 1719
3. Swedish Calendar
In 1699, Protestant Sweden resolved to finally convert to the Gregorian calendar. However, rather than embrace the new calendar at once, the country decided to do so more gradually by omitting all leap years over a 40-year period. Beginning in the year 1700, this mean that Sweden was one day off from other Protestant countries and ten days off from Catholic countries which had already adopted the Gregorian system. Due to war, the plan of skipping leap years was never implemented, so in 1712 the plan was abandoned by King Charles XII. In order to restore Sweden to the same date as Protestant Europe, an extra day was added to February, which yielded a unique occurrence of February 30th. Sweden finally adopted the Gregorian system completely in 1753, this time by reducing February to only 17 days.George Eastman
4. International Fixed Calendar
Originally devised in 1902 and used by the Eastman Kodak company from 1928 to 1989, the International Fixed Calendar provided 13 equal months each having exactly four weeks. At the end of the year, one or two extra days were observed as “year day(s).” This calendar was selected by the League of Nations as the favored proposal out of 130 submissions for implementation of a world calendar reform. These efforts continued with the creation of the United Nations after the Second World War, but were ultimately defeated when the United States used its veto power to block the measure because of religious freedom concerns. The superstitious should be grateful, because this calendar proposal would have had the unfortunate effect of ensuring thirteen Friday the 13ths would occur every year.Isaac Asimov
5. World Season Calendar
In 1973, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov proposed a new calendar system based on the astronomical seasons (not to be confused with the meteorological seasons). Under the World Season Calendar, the year would begin on the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and would consist of four months with the exciting and evocative names A, B, C, and D each consisting of 91 days, or a nice and tidy 13 weeks. At the end of month B, there would be an additional leap day on the normal Gregorian cycle which would not be assigned a day of the week at all. Thus far, no nation or international body has expressed any interest in adopting this system, so we don’t have to worry about reassigning everyone’s birthdays to a letter and number combination that sounds more like a game of “Battleship” than a date on the calendar.