The origins of a new, more rational holiday. (2020 Quill Award nominee)
“Gee Grandad, what’s this thing?” Jonny asked. They’d been sent to the attic to find lights for the Solstice Day celebration.
“That, my boy, is a clock. A genuine Schoolhouse Regulator with chimes. Your Grandma always loved that clock. It reminded her of her grandmother, but it’s not very useful anymore.”
“Does it work? There’s no display for the time numbers.”
“Well, the numbers are painted on the dial, and the hands tell the time.”
“Hands? You mean these pointer things?”
“That’s exactly right, the little hand points to the hour and the big hand points to the minute. A wind-up spring inside the clock makes the hands move around the dial.”
“But where are the numbers? All I see are letters, just ‘X’s and ‘I’s”
“Oh, that’s right, they don’t teach you kids about Roman numerals any more. Ok, I’ll try to explain it so you can understand. The ‘I’ stands for one and the X stands for ten. So, at the top of the dial the ‘XII’ means ten plus two. It stands for twelve. To the right of the twelve is a single ‘I’. It stands for one. The hours count up as you go around the dial, from one to twelve. And see, the minutes are marked in smaller numbers from one to sixty.”
One, two, three, four . . . wait, ‘V’ must be five, right?”
“Smart lad. I almost forgot about ‘V’.
“. . . ten, eleven, twelve. I don’t understand,” Jonny said, looking confused. “Why twelve? Why sixty? That doesn’t make any sense. Days are twenty hours long.”
“Yeah, I know, but they used to be 24 hours when I was your age. And hours were 60 minutes long. The big hand would go around the dial every hour, and the little hand would go around the dial twice every day.”
“That sounds complicated, how did you know what time it really was?”
“We just knew,” chuckled Grandad. “Time doesn’t really change, Jonny, people just measure it differently now. And it wasn’t really so complicated. The minutes were a little longer back then and the hours were a little shorter, but a day went from midnight to midnight, just like now.”
Jonny looked doubtful, still not understanding what Grandad meant. He’d been born after the metric calendar reformation of 2054. The political turmoil of the Terrible Teens had given rise to the Rationalist Movement, and that movement had led to a new age of scientific progress. The pendulum had swung so far over toward sanity that America had finally embraced the logic of the metric system. And then they had gone even further by spearheading the use of a new, more rational timekeeping system and yearly calendar.
The time of day had been rationalized to have 100 seconds per minute, 100 minutes per hour, and 10 hours each of am and pm. The new second was defined as .432 old seconds, so a new minute was equal to 43.2 old seconds, a new hour was 1.2 old hours, and 20 new hours with 200,000 new seconds made a day the exact same length as 24 hours with 86,400 old seconds (200,000 x .432 = 86,400).
The general public had been unwilling to give up their seven-day week, but they did let go of superstition and convert to a calendar with 13 months of 28 days. This allowed every month to begin on a Monday with only one day of the year unaccounted for (13 x 28 = 364). The final piece of the puzzle was to designate the summer solstice as a special holiday not included in any month. The lure of a new day off overrode the objections of calendar companies who feared the impact of a perpetually reusable calendar. And, if one day off is good, then two is even better! Every fourth year would add a second holiday at the winter solstice to correspond to the leap year of the old calendar.
The existing month names were preserved for sentimental reasons and a new month of Kamala was added to follow the summer Solstice Day. It was named in honor of Kamala Harris, the first woman to serve as U.S. President. She’d served out the final months of the beloved Joe Biden’s term and then served two terms of her own. Her calm, but firm leadership had been the catalyst for the larger rationalist movement.
Summer Solstice was soon established as a relaxed time to gather with friends and family and celebrate the return of warm weather. However, the idea that it didn’t count as part of the calendar gradually came to mean an escape from responsibility and accountability. Virtually no one worked on their yearly ‘free day’. The quiet barbeques gave way to wild parties with wild behavior. It became generally expected that people would dress in costume and indulge their deepest, darkest fantasies. Cheating on your diet, or your spouse, didn’t count on Solstice Day.
Winter Solstice, in contrast, became a non-denominational religious holiday. A day when all faiths, from Wiccans to Muslims to Roman Catholics, could celebrate together. It might happen only once every four years, but at least it was a start. For many it was a day of reflection, and reconciliation. For others it was an extra day to prepare for the holiday season. For nine-year old Jonny it would be the beginning of the biggest, grandest Christmas display he’d ever seen.
“Here we go,” Grandad said at last. “This whole stack is for Winter Solstice. Let’s start getting them downstairs.”
Jonny quickly forgot about the odd, antique clock and grabbed a box. Time to decorate!
“Come on, Grandad," he called enthusiastically. "This is gonna be great!”