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An astronomical calendar is based on ongoing observation; examples are the religious Islamic calendar and the old religious Jewish calendar in the time of the Second Temple. Such a calendar is also referred to as an observation-based calendar. The advantage of such a calendar is that it is perfectly and perpetually accurate. The disadvantage is that working out when a particular date would occur is difficult.
An arithmetic calendar is one that is based on a strict set of rules; an example is the current Jewish calendar. Such a calendar is also referred to as a rule-based calendar. The advantage of such a calendar is the ease of calculating when a particular date occurs. The disadvantage is imperfect accuracy. Furthermore, even if the calendar is very accurate, its accuracy diminishes slowly over time, owing to changes in Earth's rotation. This limits the lifetime of an accurate arithmetic calendar to a few thousand years. After then, the rules would need to be modified from observations made since the invention of the calendar.
Calendars may be either complete or incomplete. Complete calendars provide a way of naming each consecutive day, while incomplete calendars do not. The early Roman calendar, which had no way of designating the days of the winter months other than to lump them together as "winter", is an example of an incomplete calendar, while the Gregorian calendar is an example of a complete calendar.
The primary practical use of a calendar is to identify days: to be informed about and/or to agree on a future event and to record an event that has happened. Days may be significant for civil, religious or social reasons. For example, a calendar provides a way to determine which days are religious or civil holidays, which days mark the beginning and end of business accounting periods, and which days have legal significance, such as the day taxes are due or a contract expires. Also a calendar may, by identifying a day, provide other useful information about the day such as its season.
Calendars are also used to help people manage their personal schedules, time and activities, particularly when individuals have numerous work, school, and family commitments. People frequently use multiple systems, and may keep both a business and family calendar to help prevent them from overcommitting their time.
Calendars are also used as part of a complete timekeeping system: date and time of day together specify a moment in time. In the modern world, written calendars are no longer an essential part of such systems, as the advent of accurate clocks has made it possible to record time independently of astronomical events.
A calendar is also a physical device (often paper) (for example, a desktop calendar or a wall calendar). In a paper calendar one or two sheets can show a single day, a week, a month, or a year. If a sheet is for a single day, it easily shows the date and the weekday. If a sheet is for multiple days it shows a conversion table to convert from weekday to date and back. With a special pointing device, or by crossing out past days, it may indicate the current date and weekday. This is the most common usage of the word.
The sale of physical calendars has been restricted in some countries, and given as a monopoly to universities and national academies. Examples include the Prussian Academy of Sciences and the University of Helsinki, which had a monopoly on the sale of calendars in Finland until the 1990s.
For lawyers and judges, the calendar is the docket used by the court to schedule the order of hearings or trials. This is especially used in a criminal calendar. A paralegal or court officer may actually keep track of the cases on the calendar or docket, by use of docketing software or law practice management software.
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