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The French Republican Calendar A royal family deposed, the eradication of royal and religious references, people power, a Queen who almost escaped to America, the start of the Napoleonic era – the French Revolution was a period of terror and of turmoil, of civil war and neighbour versus neighbour. It also led to new legal and social reforms, the unification of France and a metric system. And, it led to a new calendar structure. Janine Marsh investigates... The French Republican Calendar At the beginning of the year a friend who lives in the far south of France emailed me a picture of a calendar left as a gift in his post box by the mayor who had in fact given one out to everyone in the very small village. Nothing odd about that you might think. But – it was a reproduction of a French Republican Calendar and it bears little resemblance to today’s calendars. The French Republic was established in 1792, three years after the start of the French Revolution. The members of the new Republican Government didn’t just deal with wiping out the royal family and as many nobles as they could, it was also about establishing a new order of equality and unity. You were no longer Monsieur or Madame, but Citoyen or Citoyenne. Regional divisions were reorganised. And the traditional Gregorian calendar with its seven day week and Saints Days and Christian festivals was eliminated. Instead a secular calendar was established – and it had a ten day week: primidi (first day), duodi (second day), tridi (third day), quartidi (fourth day etc.), quintidi, sextidi, septidi, octidi, nonidi and décadi. Months were three weeks long. The end of the year was Fructidor which had 5 supplementary days to make the total add up to 365 days (as per the old calendar).
The French Republican Calendar Poet Philippe François Nazaire Fabre, known as Fabre d’Eglantine (1750-1794 was given the honour of naming the months. Inspired by nature he called them: Vendémiaire - from the Latin ‘vindemia’, grape harvest was when the new year started – in September Brumaire - from the French ‘brume’, fog Frimaire - from the French ‘frimas’, hoarfrost Nivôse - from the Latin ‘nivosus’, snowy Pluviôse - from the Latin ‘pluviosus’, rainy Ventôse - from the Latin ‘ventosus’, windy Germinal - from the Latin ‘germen, germinis’, bud Floréal - from the Latin ‘floreus’, flowery Prairial - from the French ‘prairie’, meadow Messidor - from the Latin ‘messis’, corn harvest and the Greek ‘doron’, gift Thermidor - from the Greek ‘thermon’ heat and the Greek ‘doron’ gift Fructidor - from the Latin ‘fructus’, fruit and the Greek ‘doron’, gift If you’re thinking that sounds like something from a Disney film, you’re not alone. In England, the French months were referred to as: Snowy, Flowy, Blowy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Hoppy, Croppy, Droppy, Breezy, Sneezy and Freezy. Names were given to every day of the year too, based on trees, flowers, plants, animals and farm tools. For instance 12 June was Caille-lait which means bedstraw, and 2 July was Lavande (Lavender). Confused? Yes so was your average Citoyen and Citoyenne. And worse, whereas before they had one day off in seven, now they only had one day off in ten. It was an unwieldy and complicated system. When Napoleon was elected Emperor he abolished the calendar from 1 January 1806 and everyone returned to the Gregorian calendar and knew what day it was again.
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