You’ve probably never heard of “Scythia,” but that was the name given by the Greeks and Romans to the lands between the Black Sea and the Volga basin. In 465 a.d. a man was born there by the name of “Dionysius”, the ancient form of Dennis. In order to distinguish himself from all the other Dennis’s of his day, he took the additional name of “Exiguus”, which means “small” or “insignificant”. Dennis the Small, as we shall affectionately call him, became a monk. At the age of 35 he traveled to Rome and soon became one of the most influential figures in world history. If you’ve ever wondered who created our calendar, the one that everybody has gone nuts over these past few weeks and months because of the arrival of the year 2,000, it was Dennis. But bless his heart, he got it wrong! Certainly we should honor Dennis/Dionysius for his desire to structure history and the way we mark time by the coming of Jesus. Jesus is, after all, the Lord of history. But the fact remains, he got it wrong!
In the first place, Herod the Great, the king who was responsible for the slaughter of the innocent male children in his ill-fated attempt to kill the baby Jesus, was himself born in 73 b.c. He was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 b.c. In his final years he suffered from paranoia, as well as sin! He murdered his wife and at least two of his sons. By all accounts, Herod died in 4 b.c. Therefore, Jesus must have been born sometime in either 5 b.c. or 4 b.c., according to the reckoning of the calendar that Dennis the Small created. What that means, as noted earlier, is that if you wanted to celebrate the 2,000th birthday of Jesus, you’re 4-5 years late! Sorry.
Another point to remember is that when Dennis proposed his calendar for the western world he didn’t designate January 1st as New Year’s Day. Neither did he select December 25th. Rather, he went back nine months from Christmas to the day when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. New Year’s Day for Dennis, therefore, was March 25th, known to the church ever since as the Feast of Annunciation. It is called that because the angel Gabriel “announced” to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah (see Luke 1). In fact, March 25th was observed as New Year’s Day for nearly 1,000 years until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar in 1582 to make it January 1st.
Although our (so-called Gregorian) calendar is now the standard civil calendar used throughout the world, a variety of religious groups have adopted their own. For example, our year 2000 on the Christian calendar is the year 5760/5761 in the Hebrew calendar, 1420/1421 in the Islamic calendar, 4698 in the Chinese calendar (the Year of the Dragon!), 1716 in the Coptic calendar, and 2544 in the Buddhist calendar!