Saturday, October 2, 2010

Registering October

Perhaps the most memorable October event in modern times was Red October or the October Revolution of 1917. It brought the Bolsheviks to power in the city of Petrograd. Nowadays it’s no longer viscerally noted just how long it took for the Soviets ultimately to gain total power—15 years. With Red October began the Russian Civil War. It lasted until 1922. But did that famous October Revolution really take place in October? Yes, so far as Russians were concerned. But in that time two calendars remained in active use. In most of western Europe the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582, was already in use—as it is now all over the world. But Russia still measured time using the Julian calendar. Where dates appear to conflict, thus in historical accounts where one side measured time using the Julian, another using Gregorian, historians annotate the date with O.S. and N.S., thus old and new style. Red October (O.S.) 1917 in my home country, Hungary, would have been Red November (N.S.).

The Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII (good number that). It was introduced to correct for a decimal point error which plagued the Julian calendar. That calendar was based on the assumption that the length of a year was 365 days and 6 hours; in actuality it is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds. By Gregory’s time the calendar had accumulated an error of 10 days; it was time to correct the calendar rather than, one day, celebrating Easter in the heat of summer.

For all of us of European, African, or Asian extraction living in America now, October also figures (both in O.S. and N.S. measurement) as the month in which Columbus discovered, well, the Bahamas. But he didn’t stop there. The original natives of this landmass came a long, long time before that—indeed before fancy calendars, those stopwatching the vernal equinoxes, had even been considered.

Closer to home, October was the beginning of the short-lived 1956 Hungarian Revolution; it might have been glorious, but Ike was unwilling to aid the rising masses in Budapest; ultimately the Russian tanks prevailed.

And closest to us personally, Monique Suzanne arrived late in October. The weather was warm and sunny in that corner of Germany. Monique was premature, but came into the world weighing a solid six pounds and two ounces. Totally worn out by a difficult birth, Brigitte could barely keep her eyes open; her greeting, as I arrived from many miles away, was the shadow of a smile. The hospital’s pastor had just left; he’d come in anticipation of a bad outcome. And the doctor had a very serious look; he did not give high odds for the baby’s survival; indeed he used such words. I insisted on having a look at this baby—and thought that she looked just fine—so red, so feisty—inside her incubator. I rushed back many miles and spent a small fortune on all manner of baby things, including a new crib and mounds of diapers, blankets…and even a rattle. I was grimly determined to vote for life with cash. We hadn’t bought most of these things yet because we had thought that we had more time. And, yes. I’d read the signs correctly…


  1. Hurrah for the arrival of Monique! It was a vast improvement in the state of the world, if you ask me.

  2. What a nice thing to say, John. I agree that a change for the better has followed that particular October month and ever since.

  3. Goodness, I must blush to read all of this. It certainly sets me off into October in a very pleasant mood. Thanks.
    Happy October all!