Thirteen days in February

February 14th, 2014 Sections: Calendar, Soviet Union, The Year in Kyrgyzstan
Decree on the introduction in Russia of Western European calendar.

Decree about the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in Russia.

For Thirteen days in 1918, nothing happened in Russia – nothing a all … nobody was born, nobody died, nobody got married or divorced …

Well, that’s exactly true … but for all intents and purposes the first thirteen days of February just didn’t exist.  A Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars issued on 24th January, 1918, declared that a week later, the day after Wednesday 31st January would be Thursday 14th February.  They had decided to follow most of the rest of the world and had decided to adopt the Gregorian Calendar.

Up until then thy were still operating on the Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC as a result of the chaotic Roman calendar that existed at that time, (adding 46 extra days in order to bring it back into line with the seasons on which it was supposed to be based, and causing chaos and disruption throughout the Roman world).

The Julian Calendar had 365 days, divided into 12 months – just as the calendar we use today … but the astronomers of his day knew that this was inadequate … even if they weren’t sure exactly why.  They knew that once every four years it was necessary to add an extra day in order to make sure that seasons, the solstices and the equinoxes always fell at the right times of the year.  This meant that the year was effectively 365¼ days long.

As it went, that was quite a good estimate … but not quite accurate enough and over the centuries and “calendar shift” started to creep in once more.  The trouble is that the solar year is just a shade short of 365¼ days … by about 11 minutes … and so when, on 24th February, 1582, Pope Gregory proposed a reform to bring the calendar and the seasons back into line, (dropping some of the leap years – those years that are exactly divisible by 100 unless they are exactly divisible by 400 … in which case they are still leap years).

As a result of his reform, some ten days were dropped from the calendar, so Thursday 4th October, 1582, was followed by Friday 15th October.

The reform was no universally welcomed … this was the time of the Referendum and so there was some resistance to the measure.  At first only four Catholic countries adopted the new calendar bu others slowly followed suit in a piecemeal fashion.  Many protestant countries objected to adopting a Catholic innovation, but even they slowly followed suit but Europe was a patchwork of Calendars for about five centuries.

The case of Sweden is fascinating – rather then adopting the new calendar in fell swoop, they staggered it over an forty year period … dropping February 28th each leap year until their calendar fell in line with the Gregorian calendar being used through most of mainland Europe … and due to some confusion they actually had to add a couple of days so in 1712, they actually had a 30th February!

Britain, as usual, held out … it wasn’t until 1752 hat we adopted the Gregorian Calendar … by which time we had to drop eleven days, not ten, from the calendar: Wednesday 2nd September, 1752 was followed by Thursday 14th September.  Some of the diehard conservative Brits stared riots under a slogan demanding “Give us back our eleven days”.

The Orthodox Church were even more reluctant to adopt a Catholic innovation, and they doggedly stuck to the Julian Calendar … although some of them had already done so  when, after the Russian Revolution the new Bolshevik government decided that there were more advantages to joining the rest of the world … but by now they had to drop thirteen days from the calendar.


The adoption of a different calendar not only created difficulties at the time …  it still does, at least when o come to referring to historical events … dates prior to 1st February, 1918, are often quoted in both the Julian and Gregorian equivalents – designated as Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.).  Hence the Russian Revolution when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power which took place on 25th October , 1917 (O.S.) …  which was 7th November (N.S.) … and that is the reason the anniversary of the Great October Revolution is always commemorated in November.

It’s also the reason that we celebrate Christmas and other religious holidays on different dates, why Old New Year is till celebrated …  and generally, it makes for a difficult time in a society where commemorating anniversaries is an important part of culture and life.


Comment closed.