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Of days and dates

The Quest for Simplicity

The following extracts from a Minute of The Meeting for Sufferings in London, dated the sixth day of the Seventh Month, 1751, and sent to the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings of Friends in Great Britain, Ireland and America are an interesting record of the change in the calendar ordered by Parliament at this time.

In all the records and writings of Friends, from and after the last day of the Tenth Month, called December, next, the computation of time established by the said act, should be observed: and that accordingly the first day of the Eleventh Month, commonly called January, next, shall be reckoned and deemed, by Friends, the first day of the First Month of the year 1752.

And whereas for the more regular computation of time, the same Act of Parliament doth direct, that the natural day next immediately following the 'second day of September in the year 1752', shall be called, reckoned, and accounted to be the fourteenth day of September, omitting for that time only the eleven intermediate days of the common calendar!—that Friends should be found in the observance of this direction, and omit the said eleven nominal days accordingly.

And we think it may be useful and expedient, on the present occasion, to revive in your remembrance some of the motives which induced our ancient Friends to forebear the vulgar appellations of the months and days, and to observe in their conversations and writings such names as were agreeable to scripture and the practice of good men therein recorded.

And that you may the more clearly discern the importance of that Christian testimony borne by our predecessors in this case, we recommend what follows to your serious consideration.

A brief account of the origin of the names of some months of the year, and of all the days of the week, now customarily and commonly used.

  1. January was so called from Janus, an ancient King of Italy, whom heathenish superstition had defied, to whom a temple was built, and this month dedicated.
  2. February was so called from Februa, a word denoting purgation by sacrifices; it being useful in this month for the priests of the heathen god Pan to offer sacrifices, to the cleansing or purgation of the people.
  3. March was so denominated from Mars, feigned to be the god of war, whom Romulus, founder of the Roman empire, pretended to be his father.
  4. April is generally supposed to derive its name from the Greek appellation of Venus, an imaginary goddess worshipped by the Romans.
  5. May is said to have been so called from Maia the Mother of Mercury, another of their pretended ethnic deities, to whom in this month they paid their devotions.
  6. June is said to take its name from Juno, one of the supposed goddesses of the heathen.
  7. July, so called from Julius Ceasar, one of the Roman emperors, who gave his name to this month, which before was called Quintilis, or the Fifth.
  8. August, so named in honour of Augustus Ceasar, another of the Roman emperors. This month was before called Sextilis, or the Sixth.

The other four months, namely, September, October, November, and December, still retain their numerical Latin names; which, according to the late regulation of the calendar, will for the future be improperly applied.

As the idolatrous Romans thus gave names to several of the months in honour of their pretended deities, so the like idolatry prevailing among our Saxon ancestors, induced them to call the days of the week by the name of an idol, which on that day they particularly worshipped, hence:

The first day of the week was by them called Sunday, from their customary adoration of the Sun upon that day.
The second day of the week they called Monday, from their usual custom of worshipping the Moon on that day.
The third day of the week they named Tuesday, in honour of one of their idols called Tuisco.
The fourth day of the week was called Wednesday, from the appellation of Woden, another of their idols.
The fifth day of the week was called Thursday, from the name of an idol called Thor, to whom they paid their devotions upon that day.
The sixth day of the week was termed Friday, from the name of Friga, an imaginary goddess by them worshipped.
The seventh day they styled Saturday, as is supposed from Saturn, or Seater, by them then worshipped.
The popish sacrifice of the mass gave rise to the vulgar names of Michaelmas, Martinmas, Christmas, and the like.

Seeing therefore that these appellations and names of days, months, and times, are of an idolatrous or superstitious original, . . . let not the reproach of singularity . . . discourage you from keeping to the language of truth, in denominating the months and days according to the plain and scriptural way of expression.

From W.H. Sessions, More Quaker Laughter: A Further Collection of Quaint and Humorous Stories. York, England: William Sessions Limited: 1967.