The tax man cometh

As all Brits know, the tax year ends today. But have you ever considered why we choose this arcane, and seemingly arbitrary day as the end of the tax year? The unlikely answer is: as a result of a decree in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

OK, the Pope didn’t issue a decree saying that England’s tax system must end on 5 April, but he did introduce the Gregorian (or Christian) calendar – and I’ve certainly mentioned the calendar in other blogs.

At the time that the Gregorian Calendar was introduced we (the English) were using the Julian calendar and collecting tax every quarter.   Continue reading

Good King Wenceslas looked out …

One of the only Christmas Carols which I know refers to Boxing Day, or December 26th: St Stephen’s day.

Today I started wondering about St Stephen, and quite what he represents.  Without going into the full detail, it seems that he’s the patron saint of stonemasons and was an early deacon.  A surprise, then, that everyone associates him with the wrong day (25 Dec) and something to do with presents.

So, why Boxing Day?  We know that the Royal family unwrap their gifts on Boxing Day rather than Christmas day, but that is attributed to their German heritage. Several other theories compete for the derivation, but I like to think that it’s because by 26 December the children are fed up with their gifts and are playing with the boxes.

But when was the last time that the snow did lay “deep and crisp and even” on Boxing Day? About every five or six years there’s some snow, according to the Met. office, and the last time that there was anything significant was 2004 (although here in the South it wasn’t much to report).

It’s more likely to snow in the UK in January or February, so perhaps the more likely explanation for a white Christmas comes from the change in calendar in 1752 when Wednesday 2 September was followed by Thursday 14th (a 12 day jump), so what is now 26 December used to be the end of the first week in January. (This also explains the UK tax year ends on 5 April – 12 days after the end of the first quarter (Lady Day) which used to be the end of the financial year.)

I’m off to open some presents and enjoy wassailing. Happy Christmas.