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30 December 2010
Calendars as cultural artifact

It’s the end (or perhaps when you read this, beginning) of another year. Wait a minute. What, exactly, does that mean? It only makes sense if you follow the Gregorian calendar (and needless to say, not everyone in the world does). Calendars are culture at its most influential and multi-layered . . . the calendar that tells us the year is ending contains traces of ancient Roman deities, Hebrew worship practices, various European emperors, and probably a few more cultures besides. And although it is wholly artificial, there’s no denying the feeling, as December ends and January begins, that something more momentous is happening than just another night turning to day.

So make a New Year’s resolution to share your thoughts with us: What do calendars make of the world?

1. What do calendars assume about the way the world is?

Calendars say time is to be measured, and measured in several different ways:  by the day; by the week; by the month; by the year.  Of course, pocket calendars now measure time by the quarter hour or small yet if you feel the need.

deets johnson

(I think Deets covered a lot of ground already. so all my answers pertain to one particular calendar—my calendar of Benoit paintings.)

Benoit’s calendar assumes the world looks like and functions for New Yorker subscribers. One reads indoors on a fancy ottoman in February, begins to golf in March, catches butterflies in April, reads Proust on the beach in July, and so on.

Patton Dodd

A rhythm/cycle to the created order—how seasons such as Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter play out vary depending on one’s “place on the globe.”  None-the-less, rhythm/cycle exists in day/evening, sun/moon (lunar calendar), and the rule of given figures (e.g., Year of our Lord in BC/AD).

Thomas B. Grosh IV

Calendars assume 365 days in a year are broken into 12 months. I found myself fascinated by a “Christian Season’s Calendar” ( that breaks 365 days into Christian seasons. What if we marked the passing of time with “liturgical months”? We have a calendar like this on our refrigerator.

Pat Hastings
2. What do calendars assume about the way the world should be?

They assume that the world should be synchronized, that certain things must happen in certain intervals. Also, most wall calendars assume the world should be as peaceful as that snowy mountain stream in January or that flowering meadow in May.

deets johnson

Orderly, evenly organized, neatly spaced, that you know what’s coming up, and that life is predictable.

Theresa Grosh
3. What do calendars make possible?

If you’re an ancient Aztec, for instance, or Babylonian, Chinese, Celt, etc., calendars help you read the stars. And accordingly, gain a sense of order in a chaotic universe.

Paul Grant

Fey, wry moods to match each season. They can add a splash of colorful and humorous refinement to any room at a low price. (I mean this—I was always pleased to see my 2008 Benoit calendar in my otherwise drab office.)

Patton Dodd

Enter into the cycle/rhythm of the created order.

For example, in Lancaster County, PA, we follow the rhythm/cycle in the created order as to when we till, sow/plant, water, follow growth, harvest, share produce.  There are dates which are generally true for various parts of the process depending on the particular crop and field, one resource that has become well know is the Farmer’s Almanac, see  ...

Thomas B. Grosh IV
4. What do calendars make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

This one made time management difficult, allowing very little space to write on any particular day.

Patton Dodd

To forget the cycles of creation (example in #3) and cultural remembrance, for example as we return to birthdays we are reminded of the patterns of birth, growth, maturation, and death in our own life and those of others.  Cultural events frame a given year and societal cycles which remind us what is happening around us (even if we don’t participate in a major holiday it’s good to remember that the store will be closed on that day):  such as New Year’s Eve/Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, religious holidays including Easter/Christmas.

Thomas B. Grosh IV
5. What new culture is created in response?

Calendars are responsible in part the culture of the crackberry addict and over-scheduled 12 year old.  Calendars also create a holiday that has no other purpose other than celebrating the hanging of the next book of peaceful photographs and tabulated dates.

deets johnson

This old-style calendar—hanging from a push pin, flipped once a month—helped solidify an end to this style of calendar in my home. We’ve always bought these calendars, as a matter of course. But it could not contain enough information to be very useful, and was thus merely (slightly sloppy) wall art. Now, I’m looking at that blank space on my wall, and thinking of getting around to that small painting I’ve been inclined to work on.

Patton Dodd

Many different forms of calendar have been created to address a number of interests and concerns. 

Personally, I use a google calendar alongside some facebook event pages to keep others informed about my work.  My wife and I share two simple 8.5” x 11” calendars received for free from a local bank.  The calendar lacks pictures, and sports large open spaces for each day.  I carry one copy with me in my backpack and the other is on the refrigerator.  For space reasons, my wife carries an appointment book calendar in her purse. 

Two of our kids enjoy the push-pin big picture calendars given to them by relatives.  I consider these calendars ‘training’ exercises for ‘finding our place’ as we largely use their school lunch/cycle day calendar and school agenda (a column in which to record homework/activities for each day) to keep track of their responsibilities on a given day.

Thomas B. Grosh IV