On February 14th, 1918, Soviet leadership reconstituted an entity greater than politics or economics or society- they altered time. The Council of People’s Commissars, or Sovnarkom, was the governing body that made the decision to switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar on January 24th, which was approved by Vladimir Lenin.
The Gregorian calendar was first instituted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to resolve the accuracy issues with the Julian calendar, which was developed in Ancient Rome during the time of Julius Caesar. While replacing popular lunar calendars, the solar-based Julian overestimates the time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun by 11 minutes. Over the centuries, this minor miscalculation put the Julian calendar 13 days behind the Gregorian. Though slightly flawed, Pope Gregory’s model is improved as it includes 365.2422 days in the year, adjustment of leap years, and abolition of excess days created by the Julian calendar.
However advanced the calendar reforms of the Pope in the 16th century, international recognition took hundreds of years to achieve. In the early period after its introduction, the calendar was mainly welcomed by Catholic nations, such as Spain and Portugal. Though the rest of Europe eventually adopted the system as well, Protestant and Orthodox countries initially rejected it as a Catholic scheme to expand their clout.
Short term, the loss of the Julian calendar was a bitter sweet adjustment. Excluding the Balkans, which operated under the Islamic calendar system because it was a territory of the Ottoman empire, Russia was the last European country to refuse the Gregorian calendar. By adopting the Julian, another unique characteristic of traditional Russia was abandoned by the Soviets. On the other hand, Russia was able to modernize and connect with Western nations through common time. Long term, the substitution remains controversial in certain, sacred circles.
While the Bolsheviks may have had no intention or concern for religious tensions caused by this implementation, the Church still struggles today with the transition. Pope Gregory VIII was originally motivated to adjust the calendar to realign Easter with the spring equinox, yet the use of the Gregorian calendar in the Orthodox church created a whole new set of holidays. In addition to the new, accurate dates of “Western” Christmas, New Year, and Easter, the original Orthodox Christmas, Old New Year and Eastern Easter still exist. The confusion for the Church stems from the issue of when to celebrate holidays with fixed calendar dates (Christmas, Theophany, Annunciation, Transfiguration, Immaculate Conception, Nativity and Dormition of the Mother of God) and how to calculate the dates for holidays that fall on different days every year. This issue extends from Christianity to Judaism, affecting the proximity and perhaps collision of Easter and Passover.
Overall, Russia only managed its delayed transition to the modern Julian calendar in the wake of the chaos of the 1917 Revolution. Yet this change distorted the accounts of Soviet history, redefining the events of the April Days to early May, and shifting the October Revolution to November. Today, decisions of when to celebrate major religious holidays are widely debated and inconclusive. Despite these negative aspects of the reform, Russia and all its time zones are now on the same page as the majority of the world. When it comes to accuracy, it’s better late than never.
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