Companies and organizations operate on a fiscal year, which need not coincide with the change of a calendar year. By defining a fiscal year as ending on, say, June 30 each year, that enables the organization to close its financial books during the summer, if that’s more convenient than in the middle of winter. It has always boggled my mind that every congregation I’ve served has their fiscal year ending December 31. One of the two biggest income weeks of the year, Christmas, happens just days before the close of the books! We never really know where we are until it’s too late to make any adjustments. I always thought we’d be better off having a fiscal year ending in the summer, but I’m no accountant, so I haven’t pushed it at all.

There’s also a model of accounting that is common among retail and manufacturing industries, called the 4-4-5 calendar. This model takes each quarter of the year (approximately 13 weeks), and divides that quarter into three “months” of exactly 4 weeks, 4 weeks, and 5 weeks. These months therefore do not match real calendar months. The benefit from this is that this way the last day of each “month” is always the same, whether it’s Friday, Sunday, or whatever. This can be helpful for shift or manufacturing planning. So a fiscal year in a 4-4-5 business would have twelve months that have the following number of weeks: 4-4-5-4-4-5-4-4-5-4-4-5. There is, however, a big problem with this plan: the fiscal year has exactly 52 weeks, which is 364 days. (You might recall that a real year lasts a bit more than that.)

So, if your fiscal year ends on June 30 this year, it will end on June 29 next year, and then June 28, and so on. (Two days earlier in leap years!) The way that businesses can make up for this is called the 53rd week. Every six years or so, a year lasts 53 weeks. This can make year-over-year comparisons difficult, so it’s a judgment call as to what the best solution is!

A week of 7 days. A month of 28, 30, or 31 days. A year of 365.25 days. It just doesn’t add up very neatly, as we’ve seen in a number of these posts. This 53rd week business is just one method to try to hammer some consistency into a measuring system that has little. Another way we do this is through “observed” holidays. My wife and I were married on October 12, which some may know as Columbus Day. But we like to joke about celebrating our anniversary on the first Monday after that day; we call it our Anniversary (Observed). So many holidays are shifted to Mondays, because we want to have them on the same date every year, yet also on the same day of the week every year. And that’s just not possible. Thanksgiving (US) and Christmas are the monster holidays, though, who flout this convention. Thanksgiving says, “I WILL BE ON THURSDAY NO MATTER THE DATE,” and Christmas says, “I WILL BE ON THE 25TH, NO MATTER THE DAY OF THE WEEK.” And everybody listens to them. New Year’s Day is always, “Dude, Christmas, great idea. I’ll just come seven days after you every year.” Make no mistake — if it weren’t for proximity to Christmas, we’d celebrate New Year’s on the first Monday of the year.

Perhaps we could explore a metric calendar. Ten days to a week. Ten weeks to a month. Ten months to a year. Of course, then we’d have to either slow the earth’s revolution around the sun, or speed up the earth’s rotation around its axis. I wonder which would be more difficult: changing the speed of the earth, or convincing people to change their way of measuring it?

Note: Thanks so much for reading these “Number Blog” posts. I’ve been publishing one each day since January 1, and it’s been fun. But I need to slow it down a little. I’m going to continue to write them, but at the pace of 5 per week instead of 7. Let’s see how that works. So the next one will be on Monday.

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