Leaven Blog

Why is September not July?

by Olivia Martin

A couple days ago I had a dilemma.

A friend had asked me via text message when we might go on a trip together and I replied, “Maybe Aug or sept.”

Now, my phone automatically capitalized the “aug” I originally had typed to “Aug,” because, you know, phones are getting smarter all the time and it knew I was referring to the month. 

But it didn’t automatically capitalize “sept.”

That’s when I quickly rationalized that of course it didn’t capitalize “sept” for me because it’s another way to indicate the number seven.

And that got me thinking: Why on earth does September fall on the ninth month instead of the seventh?

It didn’t take long to find the answer, once I took my question to Google. But I felt as if I — and all of Western civilization with me — had been duped.

It turns out that the Romans used to have 10 months in their calendar, which began in March. The Roman calendar accounted for 304 days within its 10 months — and the remaining 61 winter days were ignored. In that ancient calendar all was right with the world — September was the seventh month, October eighth and so forth.

So, it all used to make sense — until the world got a better understanding of astronomy.

I thought it was Julius and Augustus Caesar who messed everything up, but I was wrong.

It turns out that just Julius Caesar and the Egyptians are the ones to blame.

Julius had spent 48-46 B.C. in Egypt where he learned of their 365-day calendar. So, after Julius took office, he added January and February to the year 46 B.C. and they were inaugurated the following year in 45 B.C.

Before Julius, July was called “Quintilis,” meaning five, and later, when Augustus became emperor, he changed “Sextilis” to August. 

So, I guess you could say in a way they messed us up. But the correlation of the months’ names with their placement in the year had already ended.

So, what has this got to do with the price of tea in China?

February was named after the Latin word februum, which means purification.

And I don’t think this month’s name could have been more aptly given. It’s strangely a perfect segue into Lent, which begins March 6 this year.

Since learning about the calendar and the names of the months, I’m now challenged by February to go beyond complaining about the snow and cold and to recalibrate my perspective, recognizing it as an opportunity for purification.

After all, what is life if not lived positively?

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Olivia Martin

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