13 Days’ Difference

Modernizing Time

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 Sovnarkomwas 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.

Decree Adopting "Western European Calendar"

Decree Adopting “Western European Calendar”

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.

Julian Calendar

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.

Gregorian Calendar

Gregorian Calendar

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.

Works Cited:

Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_calendar



  12 comments for “13 Days’ Difference

  1. jslattery
    September 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    What do you think motivated the decision to update the calendar more: An attempt to modernize the country, or a desire to throw away the old Russian ways?

  2. abishop
    September 15, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Good post! It stood out to me from the beginning when you included the link and said that they literally altered time–13 days’ worth. It was eye-opening to me to realize just how closely the calendar really is tied to religious holidays. I don’t know much about this topic, but to answer the comment above me, I think that they chose to update the calendar to help modernize the country to be, as you say, “on the same page as the majority of the world.”

  3. snagy54
    September 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    I was also wondering why the Sovnarkam decided to update the calendar as well, and if you know why it had taken Russia so long to make the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian time. You did a really good job writing this article as well. It was very interesting.

  4. September 15, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    The calendar reform is so interesting — strangely important and coincidental. Thanks for reminding us that moving to the Gregorian calendar was BOTH about modernizing and rejecting old Russian (Orthodox) ways. We’ll be talking about these kinds of double-edged cultural reforms a lot over the next few weeks. My favorite dual / oxymoronic holiday that resulted from all of this is “старый-новый год” (Old New Year)

  5. jmhawkins
    September 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    That is really cool. I knew that Europe had made the transition, but i didn’t know when. And i think that it is interesting that Russia was the last to make the transition. Kind of a continuous rebellion by the autocracy against becoming European, until the revolution.

  6. caitlin6
    September 16, 2014 at 8:36 am

    It is interesting that Russia became one of the last to switch to the Gregorian calendar. When considering the timing they chose to switch, do you think it could have been done at a better time? I wonder if making the switch during the 1917 Revolution further complicated things or since there was already chaos, adding a little more couldn’t hurt. Of course there would never be a good time to switch calendars considering the confusion it would bring, especially with Russia’s vast geographical area.

  7. annapope
    September 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Yes, a better time for this reform would have been in 1700, the first time the Russian calendar was reformed. Peter the Great decreed that New Year be moved to January 1st. This article by Eidelman suggests that Peter did not introduce the Gregorian calendar among his many reforms because he did not feel it was a crucial development. “Given the speed of travel in those days, Russia and Western Europe could use different calendars without causing particular problems”. http://search.proquest.com/abiglobal/docview/223975799/C5660CF40A1D4F65PQ/9?accountid=14826%20

  8. annapope
    September 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    In this case, Russia’s modernization effort was directly tied to abolishing the Julian tradition. The majority of Europe, despite varying national religions, were using the Gregorian calendar by the 20th century. There is no way Russia’s revolution of 1917 could be internationally recognized as successful or their new government deemed legitimate if they still tracked time on a backwards system. Moreover, the main opposition to the change was the Orthodox Church, conveying the public at large was not opposed to abolishing this old tradition. The Church advocated for the “New Julian Calendar”, which was an updated Julian not too different from the Gregorian, but the action failed. http://search.proquest.com/abiglobal/docview/223975799/C5660CF40A1D4F65PQ/9?accountid=14826%20

  9. September 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

    How cool to think that changing norms of transportation and travel might have made calendar reform more urgent.

  10. Anonymous
    September 19, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Great post! I learned a lot from this since I barely knew anything about the topic before. Also your replies in the comments helped to clear up any questions I had.

  11. zmartin
    September 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    ^ I forgot to name myself. Great post again.

  12. annapope
    September 21, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks, I’m glad my replies helped!

Comments are closed.