Montana Viewpoint: Calendars change, but time still flies

This is the time of year when we start thinking about, well, time. If you are reading this, you are wondering why time passes so quickly.

Many of those who are not reading this—because they haven’t learned how to read yet—are wondering why it passes so slowly. There are students who wonder how a school year can be an eternity and a summer vacation gone in an eye-blink, and then there are some of us who must have too much time on our hands because we are actually spending some of it wondering about this.


Jim Elliot

One theory I’ve heard and liked is that a year passes slowly for a 5-year-old because it’s 20 percent of their life while for a 50-year-old it’s only 1 percent. If that seems quirky to you, remember that I didn’t say I understood it, I said I liked it.

But in order to know that time has passed you have to have some point to measure from, like so many winters or a certain day of the year, depending on how accurate you want to be. A surprising number of different calendars are used across the world, and most, if not all, measure years from an event in the religion of the people who use it.

In most of the Western world we measure calendar years from the birth of Jesus Christ (which causes me to wonder why we start out a new year on January first instead of Dec. 25 ). Muslim countries measure from the date of the Prophet Mohammed’s journey from Mecca to Medina, and Buddhist calendars measure from the date on which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.

When the Christian calendar was rolling into the year 2000 there was much significance attached to the event. Besides the hoopla about commerce stopping because computers weren’t programmed to change millennia, or something, there were many who felt that the year 2000 would be the time of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.

I was in Southeast Asia at that time, and it was interesting to note that in four different adjacent nations it was a different year because they each used different calendars. Singapore is on the Christian time wave length, so it was certainly 2000 there, but if traveled across the narrow bit of ocean that separates Singapore from Malaysia, you moved right into the Muslim calendar year of about 1420.

Going north to Thailand it was 2543 by the Buddhist calendar, but in Burma, to the west, the date was 1360 by the Burmese calendar. Neither of their calendars was marked for the end of the world.

Because of the constant desire for more accuracy in calendars, they are adjusted over time. For example, in 1582 the Julian calendar (after Julius Caesar), which had been in use for many centuries, was replaced with a more accurate calendar by Pope Gregory. That’s now known as the Gregorian calendar, which we use today (as does the business world internationally).

At the time of the changeover by most of the Roman Catholic countries it was necessary to drop 10 days from the calendar, so Oct. 4, 1582, was followed by Oct. 15, 1582.

By the time the British Empire got around to changing to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, it was necessary to drop 11 days from the calendar to bring it into conformity with the rest of Europe, so it was decided that Sept. 2, 1752, would be followed by Sept. 14, 1752.

And we think changing to daylight savings time is a pain! It was not an especially welcome event in Britain; many people believed that their lives would be shortened by 11 days. The most recent move to the Gregorian calendar was in 1929 by Turkey.

There are many more calendars that measure time differently, but they all have one thing in common—time flies.

Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.

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