Sunday, January 1, 2012

So this is the New Year...

Frankly, it doesn't look all that different.  I'm sure the differences will become apparent after a few months of wear and tear.

Greetings, Universe, and welcome to a new year.  The concept of a "year" may not mean much to you (you being the Universe and all), so allow me to explain.  A year is a period of time characterized by the revolution of the planet Earth around the sun; it takes about 365.25 days.  We usually round that down, then add an extra day every four years or so to keep things nice and even.  That day usually gets stuck at the end of February, presumably where it's least likely to get into trouble.

If you're like me, you probably think it's a little odd that the year ends and begins when it does, on the division between  December and January.  Anyone with basic knowledge of Latin can see that the last four months of the year (September, October, November, December) don't so much have names as numbers (seven, eight, nine and ten).  But with twelve months total, it would appear that somebody messed up the count a while back.  If there are twelve months, and December is the tenth, then it makes more sense for the year to begin around March.  Funny thing about that...

Back in the days of Ancient Rome, before the Empire (or even the Republic, for that matter), there actually were ten months on the official calendar: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.  The first four are named after various deities, and months five and six would eventually be named after Julius and Augustus Caesar, but it's clear that the Romans were not especially creative when it came to naming months.

Altogether these months only made for about 295 days, leaving about seventy days in winter that were not assigned to any month.  The King of Rome, recognizing that this was silly, added two more months: Ianuarius (after another god) and Februarius, from a word meaning "purification."  It might have made more sense to add them to the end of the year, but instead they were placed in the beginning, thus ruining the official count forever.

The point is this, Universe: like most things we do, the naming of months and the counting of years essentially make zero sense, while simultaneously being perfectly reasonable if you're willing to submerse yourself in arcane trivia, or at least learn a dead language.  It's that little touch of insanity, we hope, that makes us special, and makes each new year worth looking forward to.

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