Your RDA of Irony

If You Thought the Reign of Terror Was Excessive…

September 22, 1792: France Produces a New Calendar

Most of you are celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, but to a 200 year old Frenchman it is New Year’s Day.  You didn’t think that the French Revolution would spare the Gregorian Calendar and the Anno Domini chronology.  Having read Rousseau, the French knew that they could do better.

In 1792, a government commission was assigned to redesign and rename the calendar.  Since the earth seemed committed to orbiting the sun, the length of a year was not very malleable; however, just about everything else could be changed.  There still would be 12 months, but each would be 30 days long.  (That did leave an extra five days before the year ended; they could designated as holidays.)  With equal symmetry, a week now would be ten days.  The New Year would begin with the Autumnal Equinox, but that would no longer be September 22nd.

All the months had been renamed.  The government commission had assigned the poet Philip Fabre d”Eglantine to create the new nomenclature.  The first month of the new year would be Vendemiaire;  referring to the grape harvest, it corresponded (at least to royalist reactionaries) to the period from September 22nd to October 21st.  The following months made a plausible weather report:












But that was but the beginning of Fabre d’Eglantine’s assignment.  He had to bestow a name for each day of the year, and repetitions were not allowed.  In keeping with the esprit de Rousseau, the names were to be drawn from nature:  plants, animals and minerals.  The weekend would be designated by the name of a tool or implement.   For example, the first week of Vendemiaire would be grape, saffron, chestnut, autumn crocus, horse, yellow balsam, carrot, amaranth, parsnip and–for your day of rest–tub.

The French citizen would be expected to memorize that and 355 other botanic and zoological tags.  People were probably begging to be guillotined.  (Fabre d’Eglantine apparently did–in 1794).  However, the government was so pleased with this calendar–introduced this day in 1792 or year I— that it next decided to reorganize the time of day.  According to the French Revolutionary clock, there would be ten hours in the day, 100 minutes in a hour, and 100 seconds in a minute.  The symmetry was charming but it did leave the French day almost four hours longer than everyone else’s unless you reduced the length of a French second; and that may have been a bit much for 18th century technology.   That Revolutionary Clock lasted from 1793 until 1795.  The Revolutionary Calendar remained in effect until 1805, when Napoleon decided that his birthday should be August 15th rather than the Day of the Sheep.  The Emperor restored to France the Gregorian Calendar and 22 more weekends.

So, even if I am 200 years too late, Happy Grape Day and Happy New Year.

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