Monday, July 22, 2013

The Moon And Its Influence On Our Calendar

So, I started out today to write about why Monday is called Monday.  Among, I should add, other things, including quite a few more derogatory terms.  Monday is, after all, the redheaded stepchild of the weekdays--and trust me, I know a redheaded stepchild when I see one (in the "takes one to know one" logical vein).

I'll just get the obvious out of the way first, okay?  Monday is named after the moon.  Nearly every web site out there elucidates upon the English, the German, the Spanish, and the other (official) names for the day, and how they each point to the moon for their origin.

Why's it named after the moon?  Because, of course, the moon was a pagan goddess, that's why.  Ancient cultures knew that some day humanity would boil itself down to a five day work, two day off cycle, and they naturally wanted to name the first day of work after the moon goddess, knowing that we'd kick the crap out of that day in our oral and written lore.

Okay, okay, I made that last bit up, mainly because it's more interesting than the truth.

Modern lore suggests that the Romans, penultimate calendar designers that they were, crafted the seven day week and started it with the sun, the moon, and then five planets.  That's apparently not entirely accurate, as a) there were other cultures, including the Babylonians and the Hebrews, who followed a seven day week before the Roman Empire spawned, and b) as they conquered along, the Romans became a polyglot of other cultures, and at times they actually kept several calendars, including a seven-day and an eight-day thing, going at the same time.  They also swiped much of the basis of their calendar as well as their deity system from the Greeks.

So, um, yeah.  One thing the Romans did do, at least indirectly, though, was give us the designation of Monday as the first day of our work week.  Thanks, guys!  How so, you ask?  Well, there's seven days, and God said to rest on one of them, so of course until industrialization and Henry Ford came around that gave us six days to work and one day to rest.  By default, then, the first work day (ick) fell immediately after the day of rest.

A day of rest which falls on Sunday.  To us.

To some of us, anyway.

According to Hebrew lore, the day for rest is actually Saturday.  More precisely, it's Friday nightfall to Saturday nightfall.  Other cultures hold that Friday is actually the day of rest.  So when did Sunday become the "official" day for resting and relaxing prior to the Monday blues?

When the Council of Laodicea said so, that's when. Apparently Julian Caesar (not to be confused with Julius Caesar, the guy after whom Julian dates--as well as July--are named) led Rome into an attack in 363 A.D. against the Persians.  He won the first battle pretty handily, and then started to run away from the main Persian army but--well, this isn't a military history novel.  Long story short, he died in the retreat, and his successor, Jovian, who also didn't rule very long, still lived long enough to reverse Julian's anti-Christianity policies.  Then the cleris of Laodicea got together and decreed, in their 29th Canon, that Christians shouldn't "Judaize" by resting on Saturday, but instead should rest on the day of the Lord, which was Sunday.

Hmmph--two hours of research for one pretty unremarkable paragraph. 

So anyway, the word "month" also comes from the moon.  It works out to be a strange date system we have on this little planet here, matter of fact.  Bear with me....

Imagine, if you will, being a pre-GPS, pre-telescope society trying to figure out how to track when things occurred.  You can certainly just wait till it gets warm to assume that winter is over and that agriculture such as you know it can begin, but that's problematic, as anyone who's lived in the great white north will know.  It's entirely possible, in fact, to have snows all thaw in Anchorage in February, only to re-fall in March.  It's similarly possible to have the snow not give up its ground till well into May.  Therefore, you need something far more countably reliable to go off of.

The rotation of the Earth around the sun, of course, isn't all that easy to keep track of on a daily basis.  I mean, it is, but you kind of have to know something about it first.  Therefore, it makes more sense to try to keep track of the travels of the moon.  Right?

Problem is--which travels do you keep track of?

See, the moon takes just over 27 days to travel around the Earth.  That is, if you're watching the moon's track compared to other stars in the heavens, you'll see it return to the same spot after just over 27 days.  That said, it's a lot more obvious to track the moon's travel according to its phases, since, like tonight, you can always tell when there's a full moon happening.  But that isn't just a function of the moon's travels; the moon's phases are also based on the position of the Earth, which is also moving.  Thus, it takes just over twenty nine and a half days for the moon to circle around the Earth and then catch up to where it was in relative position for the previously similar phase. 

Incidentally, twenty nine and one-half days are tough to track for months, but one month of thirty followed by a month of twenty nine days is just about right.  Sound familiar? 

You still need to involve the sun in this crazy time calculation method, of course, because if you don't you'll find January starting later and later every winter, up until it's a mid-summer month.  That would be pretty silly.  Thus, years are set to coincide with keeping a stable seasonal rotation, and months roughly follow the moon's journey, and the strange length months and leap days and so on are the result of all of the jinksing around between the two. 

So there you have it.

And once I figure out what "it" is, I'll be good to go.  By then, though, it'll probably be Tyr's Day once again.

Have a great-as-possible whatever-remains-of-moon-day-where-you-are.


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