Monday, June 6, 2011


May 24th has again come and passed and I once again celebrated my natal day or the anniversary of the day of my birth. Many of my non-Canadian Friends and acquaintances have heard me use the term natal day and they, perplexed, warrant an explanation which presents once again the opportunity for good conversation. In a world that seems hell bent on rushing to abbreviate and synopsize our language sometimes to its detriment a la our social networking abbreviations and acronyms (LOL, AFAIK, FWIW, IMHO, OMG, TMI, et al) maybe we can look back and resurrect some oldies that still relate to our world. I’ve felt for a long time that natal day should be one of those terms revived for no other reason than its different and rarely used. In a previous post on May 29, 2009 NATAL DAY - WE ALL HAVE ONE we discussed its significance so no need to dwell on that here.

So what do these yearly anniversaries have to do with us now, especially as we traverse our sixties and beyond? Well, waking up each morning (not being “defunct”), motivated by the dog or not, is a cause for celebration. As Les Mis so proudly celebrates – One day more. Harold Camping could probably spin his numerology voodoo and come up with something he feels important but, probably not to the rest of us.

These cumulative rites of passages from infancy to our ultimate passing allow us to mark and express our appreciation (giving back) for successfully making that journey or at least surviving it… In this day and age that is, indeed, a great accomplishment. This is an annual milestone and opportunity to contemplate the past noting that we have paid our dues for yet another year, gauge our status and rededicate ourselves to the attainment of our near and long term goals. The passage of decades (30, 40, 50, etc.) and certain of our natal days carry special cultural and legal significance, witness the 16th and that magical 21st birthday when you become independent and “official”.

And those celebrations certainly stimulate the economy witness the greeting card industry alone that counts gross sales in excess of 7.5 Billion (US). So, we are doing our patriotic duty and continuing to stimulate our economy to an ultimate recovery by celebrating (or acknowledging in some fashion) our natal days.

But, what about our calendar and the significance of that date and how it was calibrated? Everything is relative and based on where we are in time and assuming a start date. We can thank Roman Emperor Julius Caesar who had the right idea and in 45 BCE ordered the reformation of the existing Roman calendar year to one (the Julian calendar) that consisted of twelve months based on a solar year moving the beginning from March 1 to January 1. The Julian calendar survived for over a fifteen hundred years (formally until February 24, 1582) but for a variety of reasons (mostly Christians trying to get Easter to remain constant with the Spring Equinox) was ultimately superseded by the Gregorian Calendar that solved that conundrum but took most of the kicking and screaming new world nations three centuries or more to implement (that Protestant v. Catholic thang). Some extraordinary laggards included Russia which had to wait for its revolution to embrace the Gregorian in 1918 while the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece in 1923.

The basis of that calendar is retained today and we still see evidence of the old Roman calendar in the names of her months though they represent the old system. In Latin September means seventh month, October means eighth month, November means ninth month, and December means tenth month. Yes, two months off….

When England - now out of step with most of the rest of the “civilized” world - finally capitulated and adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, it applied to all of her colonies as well. That also meant that some folks born under the Julian calendar [now known as the Old Style (OS)] changed their natal day to coincide the new Gregorian calendar aka the New Style (NS). Well, this has really screwed up those motivated and sincere contemporary genealogists among us (mostly Brits and North Americans) who couldn’t reconcile the eleven day (11) difference between the two calendars. We know better now

One such example is fellow Gemini - King George III of England (see 1760 coronation portrait above) of porphyria and dementia fame who was born on May 24, 1738 well before the 1752 adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Yet, many if not most historical sources including our good Friends at Wikipedia reflect his official date of birth as June 4, 1738 (NS) though they concede his real date of birth in a footnote. To do so is technically wrong as George III was born on that 24th day in May, 1738 (OS) forever and a day - eleven days prior to that June date – whatever calendrical system you use. Well, we can only imagine this monarch’s relief when he realized that he would remain a Gemini whether OS or NS. Born in the old and died in the new…

George III had a tumultuous reign and though beloved by most of his subjects for his piety and faithfulness, was hated in the American Colonies for his heavy handed policies and ultimately his stubborn pursuit of victory wanting to "keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse". That, of course, never happened and despite one later disagreement that resulted in the war of 1812, we remain comfortably close Friends with our British allies. Given the celebration of our continued alliance, we think it appropriate to record and clarify for all posterity the correct date of birth for King George III.

George III was crowned king in 1760 some eight years after the English adopted the Gregorian calendar. We have seen that as Monarch George III and his scriveners and historians rightfully assumed the position and took one for his people. If England were to righteously enter the 18th century in her leadership role then the Monarch’s specifics should reflect the new system. Given that his loyal subjects were wont to formally celebrate his birthday (some still do), adoption of the NS would have been imperative. Unfortunately due to dementia in his later life, George probably didn’t know or care what day that was… By the way, if you haven’t already seen the 1994 film, The Madness of King George, do so. It is an accurate and engaging glimpse into the personality of George III and the woeful, though evolving, state of 18th century medicine.

So we remember natal days today and note that while I have little in common with George III (OS), Queen Victoria (NS), Julius Caesar Germanicus (OS), Bob Zimmerman (NS) and several other May 24th babies they continue to inspire me in my life’s journey.

As I rush towards threescore and ten years young I remember the poignant words of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain on his 70th natal day that say it all for me, "The seventieth birthday. It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit (Bolivia’s Akapana Pyramid?) and look down and teach--unrebuked." I am almost there…my senile rapture… as I lay my course, “…toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.”


Ned Buxton

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