Sunday, March 25, 2012

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (for Genealogists)

Annunciation, Dante Gabriel Rosetti,1850 
It's important to understand a little history of the religious calendar to navigate through family history research.

In Western Christianity, and particularly in the English and Welsh church records I have been searching, the calendar was divided into four quarters roughly corresponding to the celestial events of the seasons. Today, March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, near the beginning of Spring, is when the Angel Gabriel informed Mary the Mother of Jesus, that she was with child. And simple gestational math gets you to Christmas nine months later.

I love the picture above with wingless Gabriel, as a good Mormon angel should be, flames of fire at his feet offering the traditional lily, symbol of purity, Christ, and springtime resurrection to a rather reluctant Mary. Actually, she looks scared nearly to death but with a resolute fixation on that lily and all it means. Blue is Mary's color and all the white is, of course, a reference to purity. The contrasting red stand in front is interesting - red having obvious connotations. And the upside down lily could be a reference to Christ's death.

But back to the calendar, the other two quarter days in Britain, important for court days and taxes, are Michaelmas on September 29 and Midsummer set on June 24 for St. John's Day. That is St. John the Baptist, cousin to Jesus, who was born six months earlier, of course. The religious calendar all made sense that way. Michaelmas is the day of St. Michael, the Archangel. I'm not sure how much Christian tradition possibly associated St. Michael the Archangel with Father Adam before the Prophet Joseph Smith did so. But I was fascinated to learn in the churchyards of Britain that it is believed the parishes named for St. Michael and all Angels are those most associated with Christian conversion from pagan ways referencing the defeat of Lucifer in the War in Heaven.

While learning somewhere about the Julian to Gregorian Calendar change effective in 1752 in Britain, it still caused me some confusion when I saw odd, early 18th-Century dates in the form of "18th day of 9ber." or "4th day of 7ber." The abbreviations only appear for "7ber" through "10ber" and the natural inclination is to think they are similar to our abbreviated month names replacing month numbers for spelling it out, as in 3/25/12 (even if in Britain today they switch it around to 25/3/12). But, no! If you haven't figured it out by now, from the hint in my heading, the new year used to begin on Lady Day, March 25. If March is the first month, then September is the 7th, not the 9th, as should be obvious when you think about what the word "September" means and connect to your Latin roots. The same works for "October," "November," and "December," making them "8ber," "9ber," and "10ber" respectively. The worst of it is trying to remember that before 1752, dates in January through March 25 are actually the year ahead than what it says. Well, I mean according to our understanding of calendars.

We'll end our New Year's celebration with one more painting of the Annunciation. This one also in beautiful blues - even blue angel's wings.

Annunciation, John William Waterhouse, 1914 
Happy Lady Day! - and New Year!

And a link to a website with several more beautiful versions of the Annunciation.

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