March 25: Lady Day
Also known, especially to Catholic Christians, as the Feast of the Annunciation
Outline script for assembly leader
This date used to be one of the year's most important days. It was when you paid your taxes and your rent, it was a holiday (and holy day) and it was also New Year's Day. To understand why, you have to work out what happens exactly nine months after this date.
In the time of the Roman Empire, New Year's Day was January 1. When Christianity became its official religion, Church leaders decided that years should be numbered from the birth of Jesus and should begin on his birthday, which was agreed to be December 25. By the 12th century, the Church decided to start each year on the exact anniversary of Jesus coming to Earth. That meant the day on which the angel announced to Mary the mother of Jesus that she was pregnant - nine months earlier, a day known as the Annunciation.
So March 25 (also called Lady Day, after "Our Lady") became New Year's Day and remained so until 1600 in Scotland and 1752 in England and Wales, when January 1 was again adopted as the start of the year. This meant, for 152 years, if you travelled south from Edinburgh in the first part of the year, you arrived in London in the previous year.
From medieval times in England, this New Year's Day was one of four quarter days on which accounts and debts had to be settled. Many commercial rents are still paid on quarter days, the others being (in England) Midsummer Day, Michaelmas (September 29) and Christmas Day. When the calendar was changed in 1752, 11 days were omitted to correct Roman miscalculations in the precise length of the year. Annual taxes were therefore delayed by 11 days until April 5 which remains the financial year's end for the Inland Revenue.
The story of the Annunciation is in Luke's Gospel, chapter 1, verses 26-38.
Since Mary was engaged to Joseph, her pregnancy would not then be viewed as "wrong" - if he was the father. As he wasn't, he was legally entitled to divorce her, but did not do so. Discuss their reactions to the event.
More information on quarter days and term days is at www.landlordzone.co.ukquarter_days, while an account of the 1752 calendar change (and its related mathematics) is at www.ancestry.com libraryviewancmag3358.asp