Soviets Change the Calendar

Picture of a calendar.
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When the Soviets took over Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, their goal was to drastically change society. One way they attempted to do this was by changing the calendar. In 1929, they created the Soviet Eternal Calendar, which changed the structure of the week, month, and the year. Learn more about the history of the calendar and how the Soviets changed it.

History of the Calendar

For thousands of years, people have been working to create an accurate calendar.

One of the first types of calendars was based on lunar months. However, while lunar months were easy to calculate because the moon's phases were clearly visible to all, they have no correlation with the solar year. This posed a problem for both hunters and gatherers - and even more so for farmers - who needed an accurate way to predict seasons.

Ancient Egyptians, although not necessarily known for their skills in mathematics, were the first to calculate a solar year. Perhaps they were the first because of their dependence on the natural rhythm of the Nile, whose rising and flooding was closely tied to seasons.

As early as 4241 BCE, the Egyptians had created a calendar made up of 12 months of 30 days, plus five extra days at the end of the year. This 365-day calendar was amazingly accurate for a people who still did not know the Earth revolved around the sun.

Of course, since the actual solar year is 365.2424 days long, this ancient Egyptian calendar was not perfect.

Over time, seasons would gradually shift through all twelve months, making it through the entire year in 1,460 years.

Caesar Makes Reforms

In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar, aided by Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, revamped the calendar. In what is now known as the Julian calendar, Caesar created a yearly calendar of 365 days, divided into 12 months.

Realizing that a solar year was closer to 365 1/4 days rather than just 365, Caesar added one extra day to the calendar every four years.

Although the Julian calendar was much more accurate than the Egyptian calendar, it was longer than the actual solar year by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. That may not seem like much, but over several centuries, the miscalculation became noticeable.

Catholic Change to the Calendar

In 1582 CE, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a small reform to the Julian calendar. He established that every centennial year (such as 1800, 1900, etc.) would not be a leap year (like it otherwise would have been in the Julian calendar), except if the centennial year could be divided by 400. (This is why the year 2000 was a leap year.)

Included in the new calendar was a one-time readjustment of the date. Pope Gregory XIII ordered that in 1582, October 4 would be followed by October 15 to fix the missing time created by the Julian calendar.

However, since this new calendar reform was created by a Catholic pope, not every country jumped to make the change. While England and the American colonies finally switched over to what became known as the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Japan didn't accept it until 1873, Egypt until 1875, and China in 1912.

Lenin's Changes

Although there had been discussion and petitions in Russia to switch to the new calendar, the tsar never approved its adoption. After the Soviets successfully took over Russia in 1917, V.I. Lenin agreed that the Soviet Union should join the rest of the world in using the Gregorian calendar.

In addition, to fix the date, the Soviets ordered that February 1, 1918 would actually become February 14, 1918. (This change of date still causes some confusion; for example, the Soviet takeover of Russia, known as the "October Revolution," took place in November in the new calendar.)

The Soviet Eternal Calendar

This was not the last time the Soviets were to change their calendar. Analyzing every aspect of society, the Soviets looked closely at the calendar. Although each day is based on daylight and nighttime, each month could be correlated to the lunar cycle, and each year is based on the time the Earth takes to circumnavigate the sun, the idea of a "week" was a purely arbitrary amount of time.

The seven-day week has a long history, which the Soviets identified with religion since the Bible states that God worked for six days and then took the seventh day to rest.

In 1929, the Soviets created a new calendar, known as the Soviet Eternal Calendar. Although keeping the 365-day year, the Soviets created a five-day week, with every six weeks equaling a month.

To account for the missing five days (or six in a leap year), there were five (or six) holidays placed throughout the year. 

A Five-Day Week

The five-day week consisted of four days of work and one day off. However, the day off was not the same for everyone.

Intending to keep factories running continuously, workers would take staggered days off. Each individual was assigned a color (yellow, pink, red, purple, or green), which corresponded with which of the five days of the week they would take off.

Unfortunately, this did not increase productivity. In part because it ruined family life since many family members would have different days off from work. Also, the machines could not handle constant use and would often break down.

It Didn't Work

In December 1931, the Soviets switched to a six-day week in which everyone received the same day off. Although this helped rid the country of the religious Sunday concept and allowed families to spend time together on their day off, it did not increase efficiency.

In 1940, the Soviets restored the seven-day week.