French Republican calendar

The modern mind's notion of dates, e.g., “3 March” is very different from that of most earlier cultures, whether Mayan or European. Most medieval Europeans would have thought of a date, not as a month name and a number, but as, for example, “St. Stephan's Day.” Obviously identifying the days of the year in this fashion makes finding the interval between dates, for example, an indirect and clumsy operation. It is not at all suited to modern retailing. But its advantage is that each day of the year had a unique identity with an attached story and associations.

The anticlerical element in the French Revolution was very aware of this, and a strong motive for discarding the Gregorian calendar was to destroy its Christian – specifically, Catholic – associations.

The basic pattern of the Republican calendar had been proposed by Sylvain Marèchal in 1788. The year began on 22 September, the autumnal equinox, which conveniently corresponded to the date of the founding of the Republic (actually 21 September). The years consisted of twelve months each of thirty days, with a period of 5 supplementary days (6 in leap years) at year's end. This period was first called Jours Complèment, then Sanculottides, after the most revolutionary of the revolutionaries; then back to Complèment when the sans-culottes fell from power in 1795. The five days were to be devoted to national celebration. Periods of four years were to be called a Franciade.

Each month was divided into three decades, each of ten days. The days of the decade were numbered, not named; or rather, their names were numbers: primidi, duodi, tridi, etc. The last day of the decade, dècadi, was to be a day of rest and rejoicing (i.e., a less-frequent Sunday).

Perhaps the most successful part of the whole enterprise were the names of the months, most of them made up by the poet Fabre d'èglantine:

Vendèmiaire (vintage)

Brumaire (mist)

Frimaire (frost)

Nivôse (snow)

Pluviôse (rain)

Ventôse (wind)

Germinal (seed time)

Florèal (flower)

Prairial (meadow)

Messidor (harvest)

Thermidor (heat)

Fructidor (fruits)

It was also necessary to provide a “rational” substitute for the saints' days, and here d'èglantine and his colleagues, faced with the need for 366 names, fell from the sublime to the ludicrous. Every quintide was given the name of a domestic animal; every dècadi the name of a tool. Thus one might have a romantic assignation on Pig's Day, or Hammer Day.

The Convention adopted the calendar by decrees of 5 October 1793 and 4 Frimaire year II (24 November 1793) and made dècadi the day off for public officials.

As time passed the events of the Revolution tempered its anticlericism, removing a major reason for the calendar's existence. Napoleon established good relations with the pope, the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion in France The senatus-consult of 22 Fructidor year XIII (9 September 1805) moved the officials' day off back to Sunday and restored the Gregorian calendar effective 1 January 1806.

The accompanying table may be used to convert between the Gregorian and Republican calendars for the period in which it was in use.

The new calendar was also adopted in the Republic's colonies and puppet states, sometimes with changes in the names of the months. Though used officially, the republican calendar was largely ignored by private persons.

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