calendar: The Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian Calendar

The Julian year is 365 days 6 hr, hence a little too long. Therefore, by the 16th cent. the accumulation of surplus time had displaced the vernal equinox to Mar. 11 from Mar. 21, the date set in the 4th cent. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII rectified this error. He suppressed 10 days in the year 1582 and ordained that thereafter the years ending in hundreds should not be leap years unless they were divisible by 400. The year 1600 was a leap year under both systems, but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were leap years only in the unreformed calendar. The reform was accepted, immediately in most Roman Catholic countries, more gradually in Protestant countries, and in the Eastern Church the Julian calendar was retained into the 20th cent. The present generally accepted calendar is therefore called Gregorian, though it is only a slight modification of the Julian.

The reform was not accepted in England and the British colonies in America until 1752. By that date the English calendar was 11 days different from that of continental Europe. For the intervening period before the reform was introduced into the English calendar, the Gregorian style is called the New Style (N.S.), and the Julian the Old Style (O.S.). New Style years begin Jan. 1, but Old Style years began usually Mar. 25. Thus Washington's birthday, which is Feb. 22, 1732 (N.S.), was Feb. 11, 1731 (O.S.). To avoid confusion sometimes both styles are given; thus 11 Feb. 1731/22 Feb. 1732.

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