In many cultures, a new month begins with the first sighting of the crescent Moon in the evening sky. That's the case with both the Jewish and Islamic calendars, for example. It was also the case in ancient Rome, which devised the basic calendar we use today. An official would watch for the crescent Moon from Capitoline Hill. When he saw it, he would call out to Juno, the queen of the gods.
We still commemorate Juno in the modern calendar: The month of June is named in her honor.
June represents several turning points in the year. The most obvious is that when Juno's month is done, the year is half over. And the summer solstice takes place during June -- the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. In many societies, the solstice represented the start of the new year.
And there's one other turning point.
The first six months of the year are named for gods and goddesses, but the last six are not. July and August are named for Roman emperors, while the other four are numbered based on their position in the original Roman calendar. September, for example, means "seventh month." Originally, it came seventh in a calendar that had just 10 months. January and February were added later, pushing back September and the remaining months.
Incidentally, if the modern western calendar followed the old rule, and months didn't begin until the first appearance of the crescent Moon, June wouldn't start until Wednesday or Thursday.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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