This is the time of year when we hang up new calendars. It is fun to turn calendar pages and think of special days that the new year will bring. And it's interesting to know something about the calendar itself.
Primitive people did not have calendars. They knew that days, nights and seasons came round again and again, but they did not know why. We know, now, that years and seasons are made by the way in which our earth travels around the sun. When people learned this, they began to make their plans on the basis of yearly happenings. Still later, men found that dividing the year into smaller units was even more convenient. And that was the beginning of calendars.
A number of calendars were used by the ancients. And then, in Rome, the emperor Julius Caesar authorized a calendar that was very much like the one we now use. This "Julian" calendar had 365 days for all the years but leap year, which had 366. There were ten months in the early Roman calendar, beginning early in the spring. The first month, March, was named fro Mars, the Roman war god. The name of the next month, April, is supposed to have come from the Latin word "aperio" which means I open, "so called because during this time of year, the buds of trees and flowers were beginning to open. for another Roman goddess, Maia. June was named in honor of Juno, who was the wife of Jupiter and queen of all the gods. July was given its name because of Julius Caesar, and August because of the emperor who came after him, Augustus Caesar The last months of the year in the Julian calendar were called by numbers. September meant the seventh month, October the eighth, November the ninth and December the tenth, for that was the order in which those months were then structured.
After this ten-month calendar had been in use for some time, the Romans decided to divide the year into twelve parts. The two new months were placed at the start of the year. The first was called January, for the god Janus. He was said to have two faces, one looking forward and the other looking back, and so it seemed appropriate to use his name for the time when one might look back at the old year and forward to the new one. February may have received its name from the Latin word "februare," which means "to purify." We still use the twelve-month calendar and the names that the Romans selected.
In order to give our year the right number of days, the months are not all the same length. Have you ever learned this jingle which tells about the days in the months?
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone,
To which we twenty-eight assign
Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.
Even a month is a longer long unit of time, and when people felt the need of shorter periods, they broke up the months into weeks. Our seven-day week may have been established by the custom which people have had of figuring time by the different appearances of the moon. The new moon, half moon, full moon and waning moon each last about seven days.
Sunday, the first day of our week, was named for the sun, and Monday for the moon. The name of Tuesday is taken from Tiw, a Teutonic god of war. Teutons were the peoples of Northern Europe – Germans, Norse, and other groups from which we have inherited many of the words in our language. Wednesday was named for Woden, Thursday for Thor and Friday for Frigg, all of what were Teutonic gods. The word Saturday goes back to Roman origin and is named for Saturn, the god of agriculture.
And that is how our months and days were named.