Monday, February 10, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - C for Calendar

Although by general consensus February is the second month, for me, with my birthday falling on the 5th, February has always felt more like the beginning of the year. The way in which we divide time, both personally and officially, has a random element about it which may make a survey of Quakers' approach to the calendar more understandable.


From the early days of Quakerism Friends had a difficulty with using those names of days (Sunday to Saturday) and months (January to August) which derived from the names of heathen gods and goddesses so used numbers instead. The week began with Sunday, called First Day, and continued with Second Day, Third Day and so on. When it came to months they had no difficulty with September to December whose names derived from numbers, but the others were named First Month, Second Month and so on.
Modern samplers for numbered months

Those among you whose Latin is good may have already spotted an inconsistency, but wait a minute and I will explain. Until 1752 the year began on Lady Day, March 25th, so that for example March 24th 1750 was followed immediately by 25th March 1751. For Quakers therefore First Month was March, Second Month April and so on until September, October, November and December which were then the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months.

In 1751 it was decided that Great Britain would change over from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar. The law was changed by Chesterfield's Act which stated that the year would from then on begin on 1st January. So the year 1751 began on 25th March 1751 and ended on 31st December 1751, which was immediately followed by 1st January 1752. Also, because of a discrepancy related to leap years, by 1752 the Julian calendar was 12 days behind the Gregorian one, so Chesterfield's Act laid down that in 1752, 2nd September should be followed immediately by 14th September. It was this rather than a change in when the year should begin which caused most public disquiet. There was a feeling that the 12 days had somehow been 'lost'.
Yearly Meeting's conversion table

Quakers meanwhile were uneasy on another point. Whereas before the names of the months September to December could be used descriptively, now they too had to be renamed as Ninth Month and so on. The Yearly Meeting published a helpful table for those who were still confused which may also be useful in the present!

Quaker motto calendar
Quaker Tapestry calendar
In later times as Quakers mainly ceased to use both plain dress and plain language most Friends have come to express dates in the same way as the rest of the world. Now it is only researchers engaging with texts from the 17th and earlier 18th centuries who have to interpret what they are reading with this background in mind. However the story still illustrates the ways in which Friends have stayed true to their testimonies while still engaging with the world around them. Nowadays Quaker calendars are used for education, outreach and fundraising as well as for keeping track of time.

3 comments:

Alice Y. said...

Thanks for posting this Gil. I struggle with using pagan day and month names. I can manage it so as not to trouble people who can't get their head round it, and I try not to do it unless I feel I have to to avoid the 'weirdness' but I prefer to use the numerical names when possible. I wonder if I have been struck by this because I have several good neo-pagan friends. It's harder to dismiss as 'just ancient words' when you know people whose life revolves around the worship of some of those powers as deity.

Paula said...

Thank you. A nice post, but some errors. We use the Gregorian calendar now, and we lost 11 days when we switched from the slower Julian calendar. I appreciate the information about what date changed when; I've always been confused by the fact that the first day of the new year began in the middle of March rather than on the first day of a month. Knowing that the new year was tied to Easter helps me understand the reasoning behind choosing March 25 as New Years Day!

Wendrie Heywood said...

I grew up in a Meeting that contained plain Friends who still used Thee/Thou and of course the numerical days/months - which I prefer but have got used to the pagan.

Enjoyed seeing the table - I didn't know such things existed :)