Statutes of Nova Scotia
1805

Page 8 (trivia)


Richard John Uniacke



In R.J. Uniacke's Statutes of Nova Scotia, 1805  page 8 
the following phrase appears:
"on or before the twenty-fifth day of March..."
Page 8 detail, Statutes of Nova Scotia, 1805, R.J. Uniacke
The accompanying commentary (copied below) asks:
That old-time New Year's Day, March 25th, still exerts a strong,
but rarely recognized, influence on our modern calendar. 

Can you identify this influence?

What well-known feature of our modern everyday
calendar is a relic from those days long ago,
when the New Year began on March 25th?

The Answer

In the English language, we have a well-known series of prefixes that
have numerical interpretations.  For example:

The prefix "tri" implies three, as in triple.  A tripod has three legs.
A triangle has three sides.  A tricycle has three wheels.

The prefix "quad" implies four, as in quadruple.
Four babies born together are called quadruplets.

The prefix "pent" implies five.  A pentagon has five sides.
A pentathlon is an athletic event with five components.

Likewise, the prefix "hex" implies six (hexagonal),
"sept" implies seven (septet), "oct" implies eight (octopus, octet),
"nov" implies nine, and "dec" implies ten (decade).



Consider the names of the last four months in our modern calendar:
    September (implies seven, but this is the ninth month).
    October (implies eight, but this is the tenth month).
    November (implies nine, but this is the eleventh month).
    December (implies ten, but this is the twelfth month).

These four names have prefixes that imply a numerical interpretation,
but this interpretation is wrong each time, in the calendar we now use.

Now consider the position of these months in a calendar that
starts the New Year on March 25th.
         1st month: March
         2nd month: April
         3rd month: May
         4th month: June
         5th month: July
         6th month: August
         7th month: September (the seventh month)
         8th month: October (the eighth month)
         9th month: November (the ninth month)
        10th month: December (the tenth month)

These four names have prefixes that imply a numerical interpretation,
and this interpretation is correct each time, in the old Julian Calendar
that we used to use, before 1752.

The names of these four months are relics of that old-time calendar.






Commentary:
Note: The Act (above) specifies "on or before the twenty-fifth day of March..."
Why was this particular date chosen?  Today, in the twenty-first century, we do
not attach any particular significance to the date March 25th, but that date was a
special day to people of the time.  Today we attach special significance to the
first day of January, New Year's Day.  In the English colonies of North America,
in the 1730s and 1740s, March 25th was New Year's Day.

For people using the Julian Calendar, the New Year began on March 25th.
This date had been the first day of the New Year for many centuries.
In the English colonies of North America – Nova Scotia, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, etc. –
which, like England itself, used the Julian Calendar, March 25th was
New Year's Day.  This arrangement continued until 1752, when the civil
calendar (the calendar used for everyday purposes such as dating leases
and rent payments and newspapers and shipping schedules) was legally
changed from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, and New Year's Day
was changed from March 25th to January 1st.

The official date of the beginning of the New Year had been changed in 1752,
but this was only six years before the passage of this Act (above), and everyone
then in positions of authority had spent their formative years with that date,
March 25th, as one of the most prominent special days in each year of their lives,
and whoever selected March 25th as the deadline no doubt was strongly
influenced by this long-standing tradition.

Why was March 25th chosen as the first day of the New Year?
One conjecture is that March 25th is exactly nine months before December 25th.




That old-time New Year's Day, March 25th, still exerts a strong,
but rarely recognized, influence on our modern calendar. 

Can you identify this influence?

What well-known feature of our modern everyday
calendar is a relic from those days long ago,
when the New Year began on March 25th?




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