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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Russia, It's New Year's Eve Again

If tonight were still New Year's Eve, Russia's astronomers, historians and travel agents would have very little to celebrate.


The Russian calendar would still be 13 days behind the Western one and, as a result of a miscalculation 2,041 years ago, it would be losing time at a frightening rate of 11 minutes, 14 seconds per year. By the 22nd century Russia would be 14 days behind the rest of the world.


But old habits die hard, and while the rest of the world has virtually forgotten the old calendar, Russians continue to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Day on the old, as well as the new, dates. So Friday, as Europeans mourn the breaking of New Year's resolutions, many Russians will be taking out the vodka once again to celebrate the old New Year.


But the joys of celebrating double holidays and the worries of travel agents and other modern time-tablers were apparently low among the Ancient Egyptians' priorities when they devised the first calendars and loosed a series of mathematical nightmares that would plague the world for centuries.


Compared to the problems that ensued, defining time seemed relatively easy then. Put 365 days, each 24 hours, into a year, and presto: there is a calendar.


But slowly time started disappearing. Mysteriously, within a couple of millennia, the calendar stopped making sense. Harvest festivals were taking place in summer, and spring holidays in winter.


Where Egyptian time-measuring went wrong was in failing to record an extra five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds left over each year. After 1 1/2 millennia had elapsed, a whole year had slipped away, unaccounted for. So in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar tried to set the calendar on course again. By rounding up the lost hours to six per year, and then adding them together, he added an extra day to every fourth year to make up for lost time.


Even this did not resolve matters entirely. Eleven minutes, 14 seconds continued to slip away each year, and time continued to disappear.


Russia, meanwhile, was blissfully free of all these problems -- still operating on an agricultural calendar based on crops, until it adopted Christianity in the ninth century. But many of the old customs remained, including that of counting years from the creation of the world, rather than the birth of Christ.


It wasn't until 1700 that Peter the Great adopted Western practices in Russia and made the year start in January, adopting Christ's birth as a starting point for measuring time. Before that, the starting month was September.


But there was a limit to how far the emperor would go to conform to the rest of Europe. When, in 1582, Pope Gregory XVIII reformed the European calendar, winding the clocks ten days forward and abolishing leap years at the beginning of every century that was not divisible by four, the Orthodox church was loath to follow. Even Peter the Great considered this too bold a step.


So for more than three centuries, Russia continued to lose time, ignoring advice from numerous councils of astronomers and meteorologists and developing a dual system to measure time.


Diplomats, traders and the navy worked by the new, Gregorian system; everyone else, including the Church, kept to the old, Julian calendar.


It took Vladimir Lenin, in 1918, to decree that the old calendar be abolished.


The night of January 31 was followed by the morning of February 14, and Russia synchronized its calendar with that of the West.


The church, however, continued as if there had never been a reform, celebrating Christmas on January 7, which by the old calendar would be December 25, and New Year's Eve on January 13, instead of December 31.