You may wonder what New Year’s Day has to do with the goofy American measuring system, but then you do read a library blog in order to learn things. Well, according to The Calendar: History, Lore, and Legend, 500 years ago the definition of New Year’s Day varied hugely around the world, even across Europe. When your ancestor was already in 1515, over on the other side of the river somebody else was going to stay in 1514 for months to come.
For religious and scientific reasons, Pope Gregory XIII got the great push to a uniform calendar started in 1582. The big decision was taking 10 days out of that year, but a lesser one was that new year’s days would be observed on January 1, the traditional date of Jesus’s circumcision. (For those of us with some pagan genes, January 1 is still 11 days after the winter solstice that ought to mark the new year, but what the heck.) Several Catholic nations quickly followed Gregory’s lead, but Protestants dragged their feet for decades, with the British and Americans not going along until 1752. Orthodox nations took even longer, well into the 20th century. Yet, by the time New Year’s Day 2000 arrived, pretty much the whole world, Christian and otherwise, was in sync with the millennial celebration. Various traditional calendars are still observed within cultures, but, in an important way, Gregory’s project eventually united the whole world.
So, maybe there is hope that the metric system, which is only about 220 years old, will some day be used by Americans as readily — and rationally — as it already is in most of the world. And maybe the British will agree to drive on the right side of the road.
Just not in your lifetime.