For The Sunday Gazette

The dog days of August are upon us, but with the surfeit of ninety-degree days in June and July, I think the dogs have had their due. The French are sensible enough to take August off, and since many of you may be doing so too, I decided that this month I won’t regale those in town with anything more serious than some idle thoughts on calendar reform.

It’s a long, long time from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September. But for some reason lost in obscurity, February, not September, is our shortest month. Sure, I’d make that miserable month even shorter if the weather would follow suit, but it wouldn’t. So I wonder why we don’t take a day from January and March and make each of those first three months 30 days long. The bankers would like that. And Leap Day, when needed, could be February 31, or placed at some other arbitrary place in the calendar.

I’m far from the first to want to tinker with the calendar. The website contains many links to calendar reform proposals. The one I like best was proposed by a French philosopher named, very appropriately, Auguste Compte (1798-1857), an august personage indeed. Compte’s calendar was based on the observation that our 365-day years contain only one day more than a multiple of 13. Thus he proposed that 11 or 12 of his 13 months contain 28 days, with an unnumbered Leap Day, when needed, following June 28 and an unnumbered World Day following December 28 every year. These days would have only the names just cited; they would not bear any of our current day names like Tuesday or Friday. The advantage would be that every month begins on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. In fact, then, any given date (that still exists) would be on the same day every year. We would save a lot of trees because calendars would no longer need to be printed. Those losing a conventional birthday need only pick a nearby date to celebrate, or they could decide not to age any further beyond the date of adoption of the new calendar.

<>Calendar reform was strongly advanced by the financial analyst Moses Cotsworth (1859-1943), who showed how much more efficiently railroads could operate under the Compte plan. A more famous advocate was George Eastman (1854-1932), he of photographic memory. The plan came closer to adoption than one would think, gaining acceptance from the Royal Society of Canada. But, not surprisingly, religious opposition stifled the plan. The idea of disrupting the periodicity of the Sabbath bothered church officials, and not all favored Compte’s proposal that the date of Easter be fixed on April 15 regardless of what the moon is doing near that date.      

Our traditional July 4 holiday would always fall on Wednesday. We could either celebrate it on Monday, July 2, as John Adams thought we would (because that is the date of the key 12-0 vote for independence), or we could move those two early cold-weather holidays to July 2 and 3 to give us a really long weekend. December 7, the date that will live in infamy, will always be a Sunday. And celebrating Halloween on October 28, always a Saturday, would please most parents.

The new calendar would help family planning, too.  Nine of our current months is only an approximation to the average human gestation period of 280 days, but ten of the new 28-day months is a perfect fit. Those conceived on a Tuesday, say (but “Never on Sunday”) would often be born on a Tuesday. And couples married on any given day of the week could celebrate every anniversary on that same day, every year into the future. The downside is that there cannot be a blue moon (a second full moon in the same month) in a month of fewer than 31 days (because the lunar cycle is 29.53 days).

Going to 13 months means that we have to name the new one. Compte proposed “Sol,” in honor of the Sun. It would come between June and July. I like the idea of a 4-month summer—Sol through September—confining the other three seasons to three months each. But the Argentines won’t like having four months of winter.

This inability to divide the year into 3-month quarters will bother those fixated on stock-market performances, too. Unless, that is, they accept my proposal, the most serious aspect of this piece. Common practice now is that large companies like GE, IBM, Ford, etc. predict what their next quarter earnings will be and then, when the quarter ends, their stock rises or falls by an amount disproportionate to the percentage change by which they exceed or fail to meet expectations. And the practice encourages the likes of Enron and WorldCom to meet their goals by  prestidigitation.

Now, in this day of fast and inexpensive electronic data collection, there is no reason why large firms could not compute their profit every day of the week, every 28 (OK, 30 or so) days of the month. What should be published is the average of that profit over the prior seven days. This would greatly smooth out market fluctuations, some of which lead to precipitous swings one way or the other (usually down) because some large firm announces a surprising quarterly figure.

The Jewish calendar already contains 13 months, but only in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of a 19-year cycle.
In those years, the 13th month is called Adar II, which follows Adar I, and must be added now and then to keep the more usual 354-day year from drifting way out of alignment with the solar year. Each month of the 12-month year has a minimum of 29 days and a maximum of 30. The months of the Jewish calendar were named by the Babylonians. Since no month has more than that of the first month, Nissan, which has 30 days, the other limits of 30 are called Nissan Maxima. As with the Compte calendar, all holidays fall on exactly the same date each year.

Finally, when we adopt the Compte calendar, we will need a new rhyme to replace “Thirty days hast September…”  To preserve some tradition, I propose that both World Day and Leap Day, when needed, follow September 28, not December 28 and June 28 respectively as Compte and Cotsworth would have it. Here, then, is my offering under poetic license number 28282828282828282829282828:


Thirty days hast September,

If it’s leap year, do remember,

Else it has but twenty-nine.

All the rest have equal weight,

They have only twenty-eight.


Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and wrote this while on vacation during the last two weeks of Sol.