Monday, June 27, 2016

Keeping time with history

When young and keen on understanding the USSR, I had to deal with two different usages: the October Revolution, and the big celebrations on November 7th.  It always puzzled me that the October event was being celebrated in November.

Now, in the old days, there was no Google.  No internet.  And, of course, nobody to bug about this question either.

As years passed, I forgot about that issue altogether.  Who cared anymore when the USSR itself became history, right?

Well, except that I am now reading Secondhand Time.  It is not any old  novel like Tolstoy's or Turgenev's.  Secondhand Time is about the last of the Soviets, in which people refer to all things Russian, which are self-evident to Russians but not to aliens like me.  Which is why when Margarita Pogrebitskaya says "my favorite holiday was always November 7 ..." there is a footnote.  And that footnote both reminded me of my old annoying question that I had forgotten about, and answered it.
The Bolshevik uprising, which turned into the October Revolution, took place the night of October 24-25, 1917.
The rest of the footnote gets to the exciting part--those dates were "according to the Julian calendar, which is November 6-7 according to the Gregorian calendar that was subsequently adopted in the USSR."  I guess it is the academic in me that I read the footnotes even in the summer readings ;)

Wikipedia notes that Russia was the penultimate country to switch from the old Julian calendar to the Gregorian.  It happened in 1918--1 February became 14 February.  Just like that!  I suppose it was one of the first revolutionary moves ;)  The things I learn every single day!

If you are like me, then you are perhaps thinking: How about the US?  When did we change to Gregorian calendar?  Unlike the old days, I now have Wikipedia at my fingertips:
 In the British Empire (including the American colonies), Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752.
In the old country, my grandmothers' generation kept time with a "Kollavarsham" because of their roots in the old Travancore Kingdom.  The curious fellow that I am, I recall bugging my grandmother about when the home was built and she said that the original structure had the year noted on the external wall.  I went out, and was puzzled at the number that I saw.  When I reported it, she laughed and said it was not in the "English" calendar but in kollavarsham.  

Thankfully, the year the addition was completed is in the "English" calendar--the Gregorian calendar, to be precise.

A view from the terrace on grandmother's home--you can see the nearby temple "gopuram"
This was during my trip to Sengottai in ... ahem, you see the date stamp? ;)

I suppose we are all Gregorians now.


Ramesh said...

Anybody who reads a footnote, while reading a book is truly a specimen of a kind. I bow to thee Oh Learned Sage :)

By the kollavarsham count, I presume you are 21 :):):) So can we defer your favourite topic by 50 years !

Mike Hoth said...

Yes, the October Revolution happened in what we now call November. The February Revolution shares the same fate, now having happened in March.
The Julian calendar was not quite perfect because days are not exactly 24 hours long, and when Pope Gregory found out he decided to change the date. Being pope during that time period, he got most of Europe to agree with him. Russia's Orthodox church was one of the last holdouts because disagreeing with the pope is their pastime, but the Bolsheviks couldn't care less.

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