When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, some 170 years after it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on Sept. 2, and not have to get up until Sept. 14.” Indeed, nearly two weeks evaporated into thin air in England when it transitioned from the Julian calendar, which had left the country 11 days behind much of Europe. Such calendrical acrobatics are not unusual. The year 46 B.C., a year before Julius Caesar implemented his namesake system, lasted 445 days and later became known as the “final year of confusion.”
In other words, the systems used by mankind to track, organize and manipulate time have often been arbitrary, uneven and disruptive, especially when designed poorly or foisted upon an unwilling society. The history of calendrical reform has been shaped by the egos of emperors, disputes among churches, the insights of astronomers and mathematicians, and immutable geopolitical realities. Attempts at improvements have sparked political turmoil and commercial chaos, and seemingly rational changes have consistently failed to take root.
Today, as we enter the 432nd year guided by the Gregorian calendar, reform advocates argue that the calendar’s peculiarities and inaccuracies continue to do widespread damage each year. They say the current system unnecessarily subjects businesses to numerous calendar-generated financial complications, confusion and reporting inconsistencies. In years where Christmas and New Year’s Day each fall on a weekday, for example, economic productivity is essentially paralyzed for the better part of two weeks, and one British study found that moving a handful of national holidays to the weekend would boost the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product by around 1 percent.
The Gregorian calendar’s shortcomings are magnified by the fact that multiple improvements have been formulated, proposed to the public and then largely ignored over the years — most recently in 2012, with the unveiling of a highly rational streamlined calendar that addresses many of the Gregorian calendar’s problems. According to the calendar’s creators, it would generate more than $100 billion each year worldwide and “break the grip of the world-wide consensus that embraces a second-rate calendar imposed by a Pope over 400 years ago.” This attempt, like many of the others, has received some media attention but has thus far failed to gain any meaningful traction with policymakers or the wider public.