A calendar is a system of organizing days for social, religious, commercial or administrative purposes. This is done by giving names to periods of time, typically days, weeks, months and years.
A date is the designation of a single, specific day within such a system. A calendar is also a physical record (often paper) of such a system. A calendar can also mean a list of planned events, such as a court calendar or a partly or fully chronological list of documents, such as a calendar of wills.
The course of the sun and the moon are the most salient natural, regularly recurring events useful for timekeeping, thus in pre-modern societies worldwide lunation and the year were most commonly used as time units. Nevertheless, the Roman calendar contained remnants of a very ancient pre-Etruscan 10-month solar year. The first recorded physical calendars, dependent on the development of writing in the Ancient Near East, are the Bronze Age Egyptian and Sumerian calendars.
How many calendars are there?
Types of Calendar
There are over forty calendars currently in use, and many others that have been used or have been invented. They thus come in many forms. They may be divided into five kinds:
- Purely lunar calendars. Those which are based on the natural cycles of the Moon, which have months which attempt to stay as closely as possible in sync with the lunar phases, and whose years (composed of months) have no close relation with the solar cycle, for example, the Muslim Calendar.
- Purely solar calendars. Those which are based on the cycle of the seasons, which results from the motion of the Earth around the Sun. These calendars have years which accord with the seasonal cycle and begin at or near a fixed point in that cycle (for example, the vernal equinox). Years in a purely solar calendar may be composed of months, but the months have little if any connection with the lunar cycle, for example, the Common Era Calendar commonly in use today.
- Lunisolar calendars. These calendars aim to be both solar calendars and lunar calendars, but are more successful in tracking the seasonal cycle than the lunar cycle. Such a calendar consists of years which accord closely with the seasonal cycle and months which accord more-or-less closely with the lunar cycle. An example of a lunisolar calendar is the Liberalia Triday Calendar.
- Solilunar calendars. These calendars aim to be both solar calendars and lunar calendars, but are more successful in tracking the lunar cycle than the seasonal cycle. They consist of months which accord closely with the lunar cycle and years which accord more-or-less closely with the seasonal cycle, for example, the Chinese Calendar, the Jewish Calendar, and the Meyer-Palmen Solilunar Calendar.
- Other calendars. These calendars apparently make little or no attempt to accord with the cycles of the Moon or of the Sun. For example, the Tzolkin and the Long Count in the Maya Calendar. Some of these calendars may accord with other astronomical cycles, such as that associated with the planet Venus.
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