Thursday, March 27, 2008

those crazy revolutionaries

Last night, a friend of mine in the States emailed me to ask if I could translate the info she found on a possible ancestor in the link on my last post. I was going through it this morning and when I got to the date, I very nearly just told her that the revolutionaries made up their own months and years and left it at that (this was before coffee, after all), but my curiosity got the better of me. Lo and behold, the French Republican Calendar.

This new calendar went into affect September 22, 1792, the day after the monarchy was officially abolished. This day became the first day of the First Republic and the first day of the Republican year. This became year I, as they preferred to number the years in Roman numerals. But much to my surprise, it wasn't enough to simply rename the names of the month, but they overhauled the whole system of time.

They kept the concept of twelve months, but split them up into four seasons, with each season's names ending similarly - the autumn months end in "aire" - and each month was named after Latin or French words to describe the time of year; Vendémiaire, from the Latin "vindemia,' or grape harvest, ran from the end of September to the end of October, for example. Then it just gets weird.

Apparently, the revolutionaries were also obsessed with the metric system. Each month was made up of three ten-day weeks called a "decade" with the days of the week called "primidi" (first day), "duodi" (second day), etc. Since this didn't result in a perfect 365 days, the days that were left over were tacked on to the end and proclaimed to be national holidays, celebrating Virtue, Labour, Convictions, and so on.

But the obsession with the metric system didn't end there - then the clock got involved. The new Republican day was made up of ten hours, each hour being made up of one hundred minutes, which in turn were made up of one hundred seconds. Of course, they had to futz with time in order to make this system work, but new clocks were created to follow this new system.

My favorite thing about the Republican calendar is that instead of celebrating the Saint's Days (a practice that is still common in France as people often celebrate their "name day"), the revolutionaries had an animal, tool, mineral or plant for every day of the year. (Yay, my birthday falls on the celebration of Garden Angelica!).

Thankfully, this system only lasted for thirteen years before it was chucked out in favor of the boring old Gregorian calendar. The Roman Catholic Church was re-established in 1801 and the old days of the week were the first to reappear. Eventually the rest of the Republican calendar was thrown out the window as, I can only assume, the French came to their senses.

I hope you've enjoyed this little history lesson as much as I did. It's the quirky trivia like this that makes me truly happy!

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