The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'calendar'


By some reckonings, today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. (Not that you'd know it from looking outside, at least in London.) This is apparently the case in the United States, and is widely accepted to be the case in the UK (though there is no standard definition of when the seasons begin; one could perhaps just as well state that spring starts when Bill Oddie sees the first chaffinch of the year or somesuch).

In contrast. in Australia, things are somewhat simpler. The British colonists who founded the southern colonies apparently couldn't be bothered with equinoxes and solstices, and instead decided that summer is from the start of December to the end of February, followed by exactly three months of autumn, three months of winter, and so on, all evenly divided on calendrical lines. Apparently this is common practice throughout the southern hemisphere, where the sudden peculiarity of the environment had the effect of encouraging European colonists to rip up the rules and start again. Along a similar fashion, the Australian school year begins in February and ends in November (having been settled after the Industrial Revolution, when vacationing schoolchildren were no longer needed to help in the harvest), and the tax year starts on 1 July (breaking off with a tradition which some say goes back to the Roman Empire). Much of this is probably a case of "if it ain't broken, don't fix it"; after all, straightening out a calendar for no reason would cause a lot of disruption. Moving to another hemisphere, however, leaves little reason to not start afresh.

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The BBC News magazine looks at the question of when spring actually starts:

"You would not regard the first three weeks of June as spring, yet historically summer does not start until 21 June," says a spokesman for the Met Office. "Equally, the bulk of people now regard 1 March as the first day of spring."
Historically spring starts on the day of the vernal equinox, which usually occurs on the night of 20/21 March.
After all, summer is commonly decreed to start on 21 June - the Summer Solstice - yet the following day is known as MID-summer's day.
I've always thought that spring would run, in the northern hemisphere, from the start of March to the end of May, regardless of what the actual weather was like. Though perhaps that has to do with having grown up in Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, where there are fewer ancient date-keeping traditions and things are somewhat simplified (for example, the Australian financial year starts on the first of July, and the Australian school/university year runs from the end of January to the end of November, give or take a few weeks, while in the northern hemisphere, the financial year starts/ends in early April (which, apparently, comes from ancient Roman tax laws or something), and the school year starts in September (as per the Field Mice song and the gripes about AOL dumping its naïve users on an unsuspecting Usenet). Similarly, the seasons are held to align evenly with 3-month boundaries, even though the start of a season usually feels more like the preceding season. I wonder how long ago this 3-month system replaced the traditional definitions of the seasons.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Calendars, which has a lot of information about how the Christian, Hebrew, Islamic, French Revolutionary, Mayan and Chinese calendars work. (via gimbo)

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