Mar 012018
 

You get a Scandinavian two-fer today, having to do with the Swedish calendar in effect in the early 18th century and beer prohibition in Iceland.

The Swedish calendar (Svenska kalendern) or Swedish style (Svenska stilen) was a calendar in use in Sweden and its possessions from 1 March 1700 until 30 February 1712. It was one day ahead of the Julian calendar and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. In November 1699, the Government of Sweden decided that, rather than adopt the Gregorian calendar outright, it would gradually approach it over a 40-year period. The plan was to skip all leap days in the period 1700 to 1740. Every fourth year, the gap between the Swedish calendar and the Gregorian would reduce by one day, until they finally lined up in 1740. In the meantime, this calendar would not be in line with either of the major alternative calendars and the differences would change every four years.

In accordance with the plan, February 29 was omitted in 1700, but the Great Northern War stopped any further reductions from being made in the following years.In January 1711, King Charles XII declared that Sweden would abandon the calendar, which was not in use by any other nation, in favor of a return to the older Julian calendar. An extra day was added to February in the leap year of 1712, thus giving it a unique 30-day length. February 30th has never existed in any other modern calendar.

In 1753, one year later than England and its colonies, Sweden introduced the Gregorian calendar. The leap of 11 days was accomplished in one step, with February 17 being followed by March 1. Easter was to be calculated according to the Easter rules of the Julian calendar from 1700 until 1739, but from 1700 to 1711, Easter Sunday was dated in the anomalous Swedish calendar, according to its own rules. In 1740, Sweden finally adopted the “improved calendar” already adopted by the Protestant states of Germany in 1700 (which they used until 1775). Its improvement was to calculate the full moon and vernal equinox of Easter according to astronomical tables, specifically Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables at the meridian of Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg observatory (destroyed long before) on the former Danish island of Hven near the southern tip of Sweden. In addition to the usual medieval rule that Easter was the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the astronomical Easter Sunday was to be delayed by one week if this calculation would have placed it on the same day as the first day of Jewish Passover week, Nisan 15. It conflicts with the Julian Easter, which could not occur on the 14th day of the moon (Nisan 14), but was permitted on Nisan 15 to 21 although those dates were calculated via Christian, not Jewish, tables. The resulting astronomical Easter dates in the Julian calendar used in Sweden from 1740 to 1752 occurred on the same Sunday as the Julian Easter every three years but were earlier than the earliest canonical limit for Easter of March 22 in 1742, 1744 and 1750.

After the adoption of the Gregorian solar calendar in 1753, three astronomical Easter dates were one week later than the Gregorian Easter in 1802, 1805 and 1818. Before Sweden formally adopted the Gregorian Easter in 1844, two more should have been delayed in 1825 and 1829 but were not. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 when it became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire due to the Finnish War. Until 1866, Finland continued to observe the astronomical Easter, which was one week after the Gregorian Easter in 1818, 1825, 1829 and 1845. However, Russia then used the Julian calendar and Julian Easter so the comparison given above applies: that the astronomical Easter agreed with the Julian Easter about every third year but was sometimes earlier than March 22 in the Julian calendar.

Beer day in Reykjavik, Iceland-Beer festival

In Iceland, Beer Day (Icelandic: Bjórdagurinn or Bjórdagur) is celebrated every year on March 1, honoring the elimination of the 74-year prohibition of beer. Beer prohibition lasted from January 1, 1915 to March 1, 1989. In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect Jan. 1, 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines; then lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favor of legalizing spirits. Strong beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more), however, was not included in the 1935 vote in order to please the temperance lobby—which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would lead to more depravity.

As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalize it were regularly moved in parliament, but inevitably were shot down on technical grounds. Prohibition lost more support in 1985, when the Minister of Justice (himself a teetotaler) prohibited pubs from adding (legal) spirits to legal non-alcoholic beer (called “pilsner” by Icelanders) to make a potent imitation of strong beer. Soon after, a full turnout of the upper house of Iceland’s Parliament voted 13 to 8 to permit the sale of beer, ending prohibition.

On the first Beer Day, Ölstofan bar owner Kormákur Geirharðsson recalls in The Reykjavik Grapevine:

I remember a lot of drinking and a lot of pissing all night long and the next days, and it [was] not stopping. This was the day Icelanders took the step to try to become civilized. Ölstofan was not open then, but the idea of owning a bar started there.

Following the end of prohibition, Icelanders have celebrated every Beer Day by drinking beer in various bars, restaurants, and clubs. Those located in Reykjavík are especially wild on Beer Day. A Rúntur (pub crawl) is a popular way of getting to know the various bars and beers in this city, many being open until 4:00 a.m. the next day. The legalization of beer remains a cultural milestone in Iceland, and a major seismic shift in the nation’s alcoholic beverage preference. Beer has today become the most popular alcoholic beverage of choice in Iceland.

To celebrate Sweden’s and Iceland’s faltering steps forward in calendar development and beer consumption I present a new Scandinavian recipe for beef stew with beer and rye bread from this website (slightly edited): http://www.newscancook.com/episodes/hearty-beef-stew-with-beer-and-rye-bread/  The recipe is not unlike other recipes for beef in beer that can be found throughout northern Europe, but it is new for Scandinavia. It does use a different method for browning the meat and onions that is attractive. Use a dark Scandinavian beer if you can find it. I don’t drink alcohol, but as with all such recipes I recommend accompanying the dish with the same beer that you cook with. When cooking with alcohol it is a hard and fast rule of mine not to use anything in the recipe that I would not normally offer to drink.

Scandinavian Beef Stew with Beer and Rye Bread

Ingredients

3 lb/1.4 kg beef brisket, cut into 1 ½ inch (3-4cm) pieces
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 carrots, peeled chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 handful dried porcini, or other dried mushrooms
1 cup/2.5 dl dark beer
1 or 2 slices dried, dark rye bread, in pieces
1-2 tbsp butter
salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 500˚F (250˚C). Place a heavy cast iron pot with lid in the oven when you turn it on.

When the oven is hot, take the oven-proof dish out. Add the meat, onion and oil. Leave them to brown for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then add the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Put the lid on.

Return the dish to the oven, reduce the heat to 200˚F (95˚C) and leave for 3-4 hours. Try not to open the dish or pot before serving.

Jan 012018
 

On New Year’s Eve around the world there’s a certain amount of interest in following the progress of the stroke of midnight, usually starting in Sydney and then hopping from time zone to time zone.  As I write it’s about 10:30 am on January 1st and I’m well in the swing of New Year’s Day, whereas my friends in Buenos Aires, New York and Los Angeles are still waiting. So, I think it’s just as well to continue my discussion from last year about calendars and add something about time zones, because it is on January 1st that many decisions taken about these issues went into effect. Last year I talked about the gradual decision to move to January 1st as New Year’s Day — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/new-years-day/  This year I’ll talk a little about the Julian calendar and then talk about time zones.

On this date in 45 BCE the Julian calendar went into effect as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire, establishing January 1st as the new date of the new year. Actually, for over 100 years January 1st had been an important starting date in the old Roman calendar, but it was not officially recognized as the first day of the year.  Starting in 153 BCE, Roman consuls began their year in office on January 1st, but it was not until the Julian reforms of the calendar that January 1st took on the significance as the date on which the year changed. Of course, the Romans did not use BC/AD, BCE/CE, or what have you. They dated the year from the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, using the abbreviation AUC (ab urbe condita, from the founding of the city). 1 AUC is 753 BCE.

The ordinary year in the previous Roman calendar consisted of 12 months, for a total of 355 days (lead photo). In addition, a 27- or 28-day intercalary month, the Mensis Intercalaris, was sometimes inserted between February and March. This intercalary month was formed by inserting 22 or 23 days after the first 23 days of February; the last five days of February, which counted down toward the start of March, became the last five days of Intercalaris. The net effect was to add 22 or 23 days to the year, forming an intercalary year of 377 or 378 days.

According to the later writers Censorinus and Macrobius, the ideal intercalary cycle consisted of ordinary years of 355 days alternating with intercalary years, alternately 377 and 378 days long. In this system, the average Roman year would have had ​366 ¼ days over four years, giving it an average drift of one day per year relative to any solstice or equinox. Macrobius describes a further refinement whereby, in one 8-year period within a 24-year cycle, there were only three intercalary years, each of 377 days (thus 11 intercalary years out of 24). This refinement averages the length of the year to 365.25 days over 24 years.

In practice, intercalations did not occur systematically according to any of these ideal systems, but were determined by the pontifices. So far as can be determined from the historical evidence, they were much less regular than these ideal schemes suggest. They usually occurred every second or third year, but were sometimes omitted for much longer, and occasionally occurred in two consecutive years. If managed correctly this system could have allowed the Roman year to stay roughly aligned to a tropical year. However, since the pontifices were often politicians, and because a Roman magistrate’s term of office corresponded with a calendar year, this power was prone to abuse: a pontifex could lengthen a year in which he or one of his political allies was in office, or refuse to lengthen one in which his opponents were in power.

If too many intercalations were omitted, as happened after the Second Punic War and during the Civil Wars, the calendar would drift out of alignment with the tropical year. Moreover, because intercalations were often determined quite late, the average Roman citizen often did not know the date, particularly if he were some distance from the city. For these reasons, the last years of the pre-Julian calendar were later known as “years of confusion”. The problems became particularly acute during the years of Julius Caesar’s pontificate before the reform, 63–46 BCE, when there were only five intercalary months (instead of eight), none of which were during the five Roman years before 46 BCE.

Eudoxus

Caesar’s reform was intended to solve this problem permanently, by creating a calendar that remained aligned to the sun without any human intervention. Although the approximation of ​365 ¼ days for the tropical year had been known for a long time, ancient solar calendars had used less precise periods, resulting in gradual misalignment of the calendar with the seasons. Caesar imposed a peace during the Punic War, and a banquet was held to celebrate the event. Lucan depicted Caesar talking to a wise man called Acoreus during the feast, stating his intention to create a calendar more perfect than that of Eudoxus. (Eudoxus was popularly credited with having determined the length of the year to be ​365 ¼ days). But the war soon resumed, and Caesar was attacked by the Egyptian army for several months until he gained the victory. He then enjoyed a long cruise on the Nile with Cleopatra before leaving the country in June 47 BCE.

Sosigenes

Caesar returned to Rome in 46 BCE and, according to Plutarch, called in the best philosophers and mathematicians of his time to solve the problem of the calendar. Pliny says that Caesar was aided in his reform by the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria who is generally considered the principal designer of the reform. Sosigenes may also have been the author of the astronomical almanac published by Caesar to facilitate the reform. Eventually, it was decided to establish a calendar that would be a combination between the old Roman months, the fixed length of the Egyptian calendar, and the ​365 ¼ days of Greek astronomy.

The first step of the reform was to realign the start of the calendar year (1 January) to the tropical year by making 46 BCE (708 AUC) 445 days long, compensating for the intercalations which had been missed during Caesar’s pontificate. This year had already been extended from 355 to 378 days by the insertion of a regular intercalary month in February. When Caesar decreed the reform, probably shortly after his return from the African campaign in late Quintilis (July), he added 67 more days by inserting two extraordinary intercalary months between November and December.

Because 46 BCE was the last of a series of irregular years, this extra-long year was, and is, referred to as the “last year of confusion”. The new calendar began operation after the realignment had been completed, in 45 BCE. The Julian months were formed by adding ten days to a regular pre-Julian Roman year of 355 days, creating a regular Julian year of 365 days. Two extra days were added to January, Sextilis (August) and December, and one extra day was added to April, June, September and November. February was not changed in ordinary years, and so continued to be the traditional 28 days. Thus, the ordinary (i.e., non-leap year) lengths of all of the months were set by the Julian calendar to the same values they still hold today. Remember that fact. Much is made of the transition to the Gregorian calendar that we use today, but, in reality, the reform to the Julian calendar was the BIG change. The years, months, and days in ancient Rome would be completely familiar to us. The calendar before the reform would not be. The Gregorian reform was a bit of minor tinkering because 365 ¼ is a tiny bit too much. Every 400 years the Julian calendar gained 3 days on the sun, so that by the 16th century it was noticeably out of line – hence the need for reform. But . . . the Gregorian year looks exactly the same as the Julian year; it’s just the calculation of when leap years occur that’s a bit different – very, very slightly.  Creating time zones was the next major change.

According to the (apparent) motion of the sun, the time when it is midday on earth is constantly changing. If you live 20 miles west of me, midday, as calculated by the sun, will be slightly later for you than it will be for me. Technically, if you are 20 paces west of me, midday will be slightly later for you than for me, but the difference will be tiny. Midday is always on the move. When you live in a world where people do not move much (except sailors at sea), and where instant forms of communication such as the telegraph and the telephone do not exist, what time it is where you are versus what time it is where I am is of little to no consequence.  Therefore, it was not until the late 19th century, when there were trains and telegraphs, that world times had to be standardized. Thus, in 1885, 25 nations adopted a system of standard time and time zones, based on a proposal put forward by Sandford Fleming several years earlier. After missing a train while traveling in Ireland in 1876 because a printed schedule listed p.m. instead of a.m., Fleming proposed using a single 24-hour clock for the entire world, located at the center of the Earth, not linked to any surface meridian. At a meeting of the Canadian Institute in Toronto on February 8th, 1879, he linked his standard time to the anti-meridian of Greenwich (now 180°). He suggested that standard time zones could be used locally, but they would be subordinate to his single world time, which he called Cosmic Time. He continued to promote his system at major international conferences including the International Meridian Conference of 1884. That conference accepted a different version of Universal Time but refused to accept his zones, stating that they were a local issue outside its purview. It took until 1929 for most countries to accept time zones.

Fleming

Local solar time became increasingly inconvenient as rail transport and telecommunications improved, because clocks differed between places by amounts corresponding to the differences in their geographical longitudes (four minutes of time for every degree of longitude). The first adoption of a standard time was on December 1, 1847, in Great Britain by railway companies using GMT kept by portable chronometers. The first of these companies to adopt standard time was the Great Western Railway (GWR) in November 1840. This quickly became known as Railway Time. About August 23, 1852, time signals were first transmitted by telegraph from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Even though 98% of Great Britain’s public clocks were using GMT by 1855, it was not made Britain’s legal time until August 2, 1880. Some British clocks from this period have two minute hands—one for the local time, one for GMT.

Improvements in worldwide communication further increased the need for interacting parties to communicate mutually comprehensible time references to one another. The problem of differing local times could be solved across larger areas by synchronizing clocks worldwide, but in many places, that adopted time would then differ markedly from the solar time to which people were accustomed. On November 2, 1868, the then British colony of New Zealand officially adopted a standard time to be observed throughout the colony, and was perhaps the first country to do so. It was based on the longitude 172°30′ East of Greenwich, that is 11 hours 30 minutes ahead of GMT. This standard was known as New Zealand Mean Time.

By 1900 (not a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, incidentally), almost all time on Earth was in the form of standard time zones, only some of which used an hourly offset from GMT. Many applied the time at a local astronomical observatory to an entire country, without any reference to GMT. It took many decades before all time on Earth was in the form of time zones referred to some “standard offset” from GMT/UTC. By 1929, most major countries had adopted hourly time zones. Nepal was the last country to adopt a standard offset, shifting slightly to UTC+5:45 in 1986. Today, all nations use standard time zones for secular purposes, but they do not all apply the concept as originally conceived. North Korea, Newfoundland, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Marquesas, as well as parts of Australia use half-hour deviations from standard time, and some nations, such as Nepal, and some provinces, such as the Chatham Islands of New Zealand, use quarter-hour deviations. Some countries, such as China and India, use a single time zone even though the extent of their territory far exceeds 15° of longitude (that is, more than one hour difference from east to west).

Fleming was a Scot, so a Hogmanay recipe is in order for today. Black bun is the classic Scots dish for New Year. It used to be made in the Christmas season and eaten on Epiphany, but now it is a standard dish for Hogmanay. It’s a fairly standard fruit cake but with pastry wrapping it instead of icing.

Black Bun

Ingredients

For the pastry

300g/10½oz plain flour
75g/3oz lard, cubed
75g/3oz butter, cubed
salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten (for glazing)

For the filling

200g/7oz plain flour
300g/10½oz raisins
300g/10½oz currants
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp mixed spice (cloves, nutmeg, mace)
¼ tsp ground black pepper
100g/3½oz dark muscovado sugar
100g/3½oz mixed peel, chopped
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp whisky
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp buttermilk

Instructions

For the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the lard and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and four tablespoons of cold water and mix to a soft dough. Turn out and knead into a ball. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the refrigerator (an hour or more).

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F.

For the filling, mix together the fruit, flour, spices, and bicarbonate of soda in a large mixing bowl. Beat together the egg, whisky, and buttermilk in a small bowl. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and combine well. Take your time and be thorough in your mixing.  You will find dry pockets for some minutes as you mix.

Line a 900g/2lb loaf tin with baking parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll out two thirds of the pastry to a rectangle large enough to line the tin. Drape into the tin and press up against the sides. Spoon the filling into the tin, pressing down to compress.     Roll out three quarters of the remaining pastry to a rectangle large enough to cover the tin. Dampen the edges of the pastry with water and press the pastry lid on top to seal. Trim the edges and crimp using a fork. Roll out the remaining pastry, along with any trimmings, and use them to decorate the top. Attach them with a little water. Glaze the top with beaten egg and bake for two hours. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

Jan 012016
 

ny4

Today is New Year’s Day according to the Gregorian calendar, which is more or less universally used for daily affairs, although many cultures use other calendars for the timing of celebrations and anniversaries such as the new year. When a new year starts (or when a day starts) is obviously arbitrary. I once read of a bar in California that celebrated a “new year” every day at midnight with balloons, champagne, and Auld Lang Syne. There are many measures of time that are human creations, such as the hour, minute, or week, but the year (as well as day and month), is set by astronomical facts (one revolution of the earth around the sun), regardless of human perceptions and ideas. But because the year is a cycle, there is no obvious starting or ending point. All manner of dates have been used in the past in different cultures.

During the Middle Ages under the influence of the Catholic Church, many countries in western Europe moved the start of the year to one of several important Christian festivals – December 25 (the Nativity of Jesus), March 1, March 25 (the Annunciation), or even Easter. Eastern European countries (most of them with populations showing allegiance to the Orthodox Church) began their numbered year on September 1 from about 988 CE.

ny5

In England, January 1 had been celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century to 1752 the year in England began on March 25 (Lady Day). So, for example, the Parliamentary record notes the execution of Charles I as occurring on January 30, 1648, (as the year did not end until March 24), although modern histories adjust the start of the year to January 1 and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

Most western European countries changed the start of the year to January 1 before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. For example, Scotland changed the start of the Scottish New Year to January 1 in 1600. England, Ireland and the British colonies changed the start of the year to January 1 in 1752. Later that year in September, the Gregorian calendar was introduced throughout Britain and the British colonies. These two reforms were implemented by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

January 1 became the official start of the year in various countries as follows:

1362 Grand Duchy of Lithuania
1522 Republic of Venice
1544 Holy Roman Empire
1556 Spain, Portugal
1559 Prussia, Sweden
1564 France
1576 Southern Netherlands
1579 Duchy of Lorraine
1583 Dutch Republic (northern)
1600 Scotland
1700 Russia
1721 Tuscany
1752 Great Britain (excluding Scotland) and its colonies

ny3

There is no telling when and in which culture a new year’s festival was first celebrated. It was certainly known in ancient Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. Also, it is certainly the case that a new year’s celebration was independently invented several times – Mayans, Aztecs, Jews, Chinese etc. etc.

ny2

The Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the pagan god of gates, doors, and beginnings, for whom the first month of the year, January, is also named. Janus was depicted as having two faces: one looking forwards, the other, backwards . This tradition may have started in 153 BCE, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls, after whose names the Romans identified the years, acceded to office on that day. After Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BCE and was subsequently murdered, the Roman Senate voted to deify him on 1 January 42 BCE, in honor of his life and his institution of the new rationalized calendar. Ever after 1 January was the unequivocal start of the new year in the Roman Empire until its collapse.

DSC_0707

There’s a host of New Year’s customs I don’t need to dwell on – champagne, fireworks, resolutions and so on. Besides those that have become widespread, there are also those that belong to individual cultures. One from Europe I observe is to do a little of something(s) I hope to do throughout the year. Sympathetic magic I suppose. I also follow the custom from the U.S. South of eating “poor” on New Year’s Day. Both greens and black-eyed peas, symbolizing wealth, are traditional foods. I usually cook up greens with ham and potatoes, hoppin’ John (rice and black-eyed peas), and hush puppies on New Year’s Day. My recipe for hush puppies is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/wright-brothers/ Here’s hoppin’ John as I made it today. Quantities are not necessary, but the amounts of rice and black-eyed peas should be about even, and they should dominate the dish.

DSC_0723a

Hoppin’ John

Soak black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. The following morning drain the peas, cover them with water, add a ham hock and simmer until the peas are cooked. Meanwhile cook an equal amount of long grained white rice. Drain both the peas and rice, reserving the broth from the peas. Strip the meat from the ham hock.

Melt a little lard in a heavy skillet. Sauté a small amount of chopped white onion and the ham until the onion is translucent. Add the rice, peas, and a small amount of broth, and heat through. If you like you can add parsley, but it is not necessary. Serve with greens and hush puppies.

Sep 022015
 

11days8

On this date in 1752 through enactment of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar. Up until that point they had used the Julian calendar which was 11 days ahead of sun time. Because of this they had to eliminate 11 days, so Wednesday, 2 September 1752, was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752. For many years it was believed that people in England rioted demanding “Give us back our eleven days” as if somehow their lives had been shortened by 11 days. This is actually nothing more than an urban legend based on a misinterpretation of a contemporary William Hogarth painting. However, there were some real negative consequences to shortening the year. For historians, such as myself, interested in anniversaries, it is merely a simple curiosity that the dates 3 to 13 September 1752 do not exist. So, it would be a good pub quiz question to ask something like “what important event occurred in England on 10 September 1752?”

11 days3

The Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar, is internationally the most widely used civil calendar. It is named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it by papal bull in 1582. It was first used as a religious calendar whose primary purpose was to make sure that Easter was perpetually celebrated at the same time as in ancient times (more or less coinciding with Passover, when Jesus was crucified). It replaced the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar, whose calendar year was very slightly ahead of the sun because the solar year is very slightly shorter than 365.25 days (0.002% shorter). If you have a leap year every four years you add a day every four years (February 29th). But since the year is not exactly 365.25 days you are adding just a little too much. The Gregorian calendar corrects for this by making century years NOT leap years if the first 2 digits are not divisible by 4. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was.

11days4

The Gregorian calendar was immediately adopted in European Catholic countries and their colonies, for both civil and religious purposes, but not by Orthodox and Protestant countries. Hence, when it came to buying and selling goods internationally there could be confusion about dates of billing, receipts, and so forth. Although it ought to have been simple for non-Catholic countries to shift into line with Catholic countries, it took a long time for the change to come about mostly because of prejudice. Some claimed, for example, that it was a papal plot to convert the world to Catholicism. It astonishes me how stupid and irrational prejudice can be. Greece did not change to the Gregorian calendar until 1923. I remember in the 1970s when the U.K. decided to stay on BST all year so that the clocks would align with those in continental Europe, thus making it easier to conduct international business and assuring that the stock markets opened and closed at the same time. I was amazed to watch the historian A.J.P. Taylor in an interview on television saying essentially, “we’re British damn it; we don’t have to do what foreigners do.” I used to like him up until that point. It’s one thing to be a maverick, it’s another to be an idiot. As it happens this change ultimately failed because it had a human cost. With the clocks advanced all year children in the north of England and Scotland were going to school in winter in the pitch dark.

Calendar reform in England in 1750 had two components. The first specified that the new year should begin on 1st of January (the old Roman new year). Previously there had been a welter of ways of marking the new year. The tax year and the civil year in general, for example, began on Lady Day (25 March). Many institutions, such as churches, calculated the years starting with the date when the current king or queen ascended the throne. Others used famous local events, or religious holidays such as Shrove Tuesday or Halloween. Having one official New Year’s Day for everyone was obviously beneficial. To bring everyone into line in England and Wales, the legal year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. The change to 1 January had already been effected in Scotland in 1600.

The second component was meant to align the calendar in use in the U.K. to that on the continent, by adopting the Gregorian calendar which meant eliminating the 11 days from 3 to 13 September 1752. Thus the year 1752 was a short year (355 days) as well. The Act of Parliament, mindful of recent religious wars in Europe, adopted the Gregorian calendar without mention of pope Gregory or the Catholic church.

11days5

Some history books say that some people rioted after the calendar change, asking that their “eleven days” be returned. However this is not true. The legend is based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal by Lord Chesterfield; and a painting by William Hogarth. Chesterfield was the author of the calendar reform Act. He wrote to his son, “Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none.” Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the Bill passed through the Lords; the ‘mob’ in question was his fellow peers, not some angry rioting mob protesting the changes.

11days1

When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the Act) stood for Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In 1755, William Hogarth produced a painting (and an engraved print from the painting) loosely based on these elections, entitled An Election Entertainment, which shows a placard carrying the slogan “Give us our Eleven Days” (on floor at lower right — detail below).

11 days2

An example of the resulting incorrect history is shown by Ronald Paulson, author of Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times, who wrote that “…the Oxfordshire people…are specifically rioting, as historically the London crowd did, to preserve the ‘Eleven Days’ the government stole from them in September 1752 by changing the calendar.” Thus the “calendar riot” fiction was born. The election campaign depicted by Hogarth concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Every issue between the two factions was brought up, including the question of calendar reform. The Tories attacked the Whigs for every deviation, including their alleged favoritism towards foreign Jews and the “Popish” calendar. Hogarth’s placard, part of a satire on the character of the debate, was not an observation of actual crowd behavior.

There were, however, legitimate concerns about tax and other payments under the new calendar. Provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act stipulated that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have in the Julian calendar, or in the words of the Act “[Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities] at and upon the same respective natural days and times as the same should and ought to have been payable or made or would have happened in case this Act had not been made”. In that way landlords would not get an extra 11 days rent for free.

Several theories have been proposed for the odd beginning of the British tax year on 6 April. One is that from 1753 until 1799, the tax year began on 5 April, which corresponded to 25 March Old Style (Julian calendar), that is, the old New Year’s Day. After the twelfth skipped Julian leap day in 1800, it was changed to 6 April, which still corresponded to 25 March Old Style. However it was not changed when a thirteenth Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April. Now write and tell me why Tax Day is 15 April in the U.S. (Pub quiz question of the day).

The Gregorian calendar continued to use the previous calendar era (year-numbering system), which counts years from the traditional date of the nativity (Anno Domini), originally calculated in the 6th century by Dionysius Exiguus. This year-numbering system, also known as Dionysian era or Common Era, is the predominant international standard today. This is why I, and a great many other people, use the abbreviations C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E (Before the Common Era), rather than the ethnocentric A.D. and B.C.

What to give you for today’s recipe? I did find one or two ancient ones for wine that required a fermentation period of 11 days (which meant that if you followed the calendar wine begun on 2 September would be ready on 14 September – the following day). However, that is a bit of a silly joke. Instead here is an 18th century English recipe for “Asparagus dressed the Italian Way.” It seems appropriate in that it is from an English cook, allowing that the Italian way of cooking (home of the pope) has its merits. In those days, as now, the English were a xenophobic lot, so this recipe is a surprise.

Take the asparagus, break them in pieces, then boil them soft and drain the water from them; take a little oil, water, and vinegar, let it boil, season it with pepper and salt, throw in the asparagus and thicken with yolks of eggs. The Spaniards add sugar, but that spoils them.

Looks remarkably like asparagus with Hollandaise to me – which I love. Don’t be a Spaniard and add sugar. Wouldn’t want to spoil the asparagus – or you!

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