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Article Published April 27, 1999
WHAT MONTHS ARE 7BRE AND FRUCTIDOR? - PART IIIb of III ON CALENDARS
By: Xenia Stanford Biography & Archived Articles
PROBLEMS WITH FEAST DAYS, FESTIVALS, HOLIDAYS AND LEAP YEARS
Feast days, festivals and holidays, if set by date, do not fall on the same day of the week each year (e.g. New Year's Day can be any day from Monday to Sunday). If set to the same day of week each year (e.g. a Sunday or Monday), then it does not always fall on the same date. It is difficult to calculate moveable feasts like Easter each year. In leap years, the addition of an extra day near the beginning of the year only causes more confusion with setting holidays or with what day of the week or date on which they fall.
FRENCH SOLUTIONS TO FEAST DAYS, FESTIVALS AND HOLIDAYS
Dividing the year into 12 months of 3 decades meant the French calendar had a year of 360. Wishing to be scientific and rational, they knew they needed to be consistent with the solar year.
The five extra days or six in the case of leap years could be resolved by killing two birds with one stone. The problem of leap years not interfering with the rest of the year and the confusion over feast days could easily be solved by tacking the remaining days at the end of the year and making them all holidays and days of celebration.
The beginning of the year was set at primidi (first day) of the first decade of Vendémiaire, which was also the beginning of autumn. Thus the end of the twelve months was 30 Fructidor or decadi (10th day) of the third decade. After this day were added the sans-culottides or jours complementaires (complementary days).
Again trying to get away from religions of any kind, they chose to name these five to six days after secular matters. (Some say the calendar was to de-Christianise, however, the Jacobin reformers felt any religion was not rational or scientific. In that sense, they were non-denominational. Rather than discriminating against one sect, they could be said to be have discriminated against all religion.)
The names chosen for the celebratory days were La Vertu for Virtue, Le Génie for Genius, Le Travail for Labour, L'Opinion for Reason and Les Récompenses for Rewards. In leap years the added day called La Révolution was to commemorate the revolution and to renew their oath "to live free or die".
According to the Gregorian calendar these festivals were celebrated from September 17 to 20 in non-leap years and 17 to 21 during leap years.
PROBLEMS WITH TIME
Calendar time runs fast against solar time and will equal a day off by the year 4909. (In case you care!) The solar and calendar years are currently out by two hours and some minutes. Days are 24 hours long. Each hour is comprised of 60 minutes of 60 seconds each. This is not easily divisible for quick calculation.
FRENCH SOLUTION TO TIME
In the French system, it was recognised they required 365 and an extra day every fourth or leap year in order to be stay close to solar time. Thus to have a consistent and easily divisible number of days per month, it appeared necessary to stay with twelve divisions.
However, everything else to do with time was to be based on an easy "metric" (measuring) or decimal (divisible by ten) system. Thus the ten-day cycle instead of a seven-day week was chosen.
Days themselves were also divided into a decimal arrangement of ten hours of 100 minutes each with each minute being 100 seconds long. Each day then had 10,000 minutes and 100,000 seconds.
PROBLEM WITH YEARS OR MILLENNIUMS
The lack of a zero date with the positive and negative numbers of AD and BC makes it difficult to see time as a continuum. For example, how many years ago did an event in 45 BC occur? Under this system of no year zero, the millennium really begins in the year one, e.g. 1001 or 2001, but the round number is more appealing to the masses.
The French did not solve this one. In fact, they caused more of a muddle. Trying to subject the calendar to science and reason, they chose an emotional day and year to begin their calendar despite this day having already passed. The date chosen was the day the French Revolution had achieved success by the founding of the French Republic. (September 22, 1792 marked the official declaration of the Republic of France.)
However, since the calendar was instituted over a year after this date, year one and day one was set retroactively. Neither Julius Caesar nor Pope Gregory had been so irrational as to set the beginning of the calendar to a date already past.
This, of course, conflicted with dates already recorded as September 22, 1792 to Nov. 23, 1793 (GR). By the time the new calendar was in place, publication dates of books and official records, such as those genealogists rely upon, had been set down in Gregorian terms. Therefore, nothing was recorded as year one in the FRC. Anything dated as such was found in later records in reference to the previous date.
Therefore, a date originally entered as a Gregorian date (e.g. January 1, 1793) in a vital record would have been converted to FRC if referred to in the French Republican era and then re-converted back to Gregorian in other countries or later in history. This presents further opportunity for confusion and error for genealogists today.
OTHER NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF THE FRENCH SOLUTION
We have already discussed the conversion problems presented to genealogists but this is only part of the consequences of this revolutionary system. Besides the need for new calendars, the system required new clocks to run on the hundred second, hundred minute, ten-hour day.
French documents dated on the new system were out of sync with the entire non-French world, but they also had another sequence of years from one through fourteen. Since they did not renumber the days prior to their calendar, this meant dates could be BC, AD or FRC. This caused a further break in the "continuum of history". Contemporaries of the French, especially the anti-revolutionary or pro-religious, looked upon the "Calendar of Reason", as a "calendar of treason". Others, especially the English, regarded it as a calendar of derision or stupidity. They ridiculed the names of the months with nicknames such as wheezy, sneezy, freezy, slippy, drippy and nippy.
The Jacobin rulers renamed the churches "Temples of Reason" but the devout and the officials of the various religions affected by the calendar saw nothing reasonable in trying to overturn God's word with science.
Even the common labourer, who might not have cared about fewer days of worship in a year, cared about working an extra 3 days before a day of rest. Also what nonsense, some thought, to have all the holidays in a row and not spread out during the year. Shops or businesses closed for five or six days in a row for the festivals did not find much to celebrate when they reopened with depleted coffers.
CONVERTING FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY OR REPUBLICAN CALENDAR DATES
The following is an excerpt from Toke Nørby's The Perpetual Calendar site.
Reducing the French Republican Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar This is also simple. Let us take an example: You have a letter dated on 19 Frimaire, year 8... What date is this in the Gregorian Calendar? In Scheme 5.1 we find that 1 Frimaire, year 8, was 22 Nov. 1799. You simply have to add 18 (19-1) days to the Gregorian date 22 Nov. and this ends up with 10 December 1799.
This rule of thumb may not be accurate for all conversions, as it does not take leap year into consideration. Also you still have to find the Gregorian date for the first of the particular month and year for the FRC date you are trying to convert. Rather than trying to calculate the date yourself, the best automatic converter is http://genealogy.org/~scottlee/calconvert.cgi. As far as I know it is accurate and it is certainly easy to use.
The following bibliography gives other sites and books found to be useful in finding out more about various calendars, including the French Revolutionary or Republican one. I also give a brief review of the sites listed. Sites I found to be of little or no use, I have not included. However, if any of you feel I have missed a good site, please let me know and I will review it later.
My original intention was to give a brief overview of the French Republican or French Revolutionary Calendar. However, the sites I reviewed and the books available to me all contained either errors or omissions or both. I have endeavoured to be very accurate but appreciate any feedback with documentation if I have erred.
The approach of examining the rationale of French "Calendar of Reason" compared to our other "modern" systems, has also extended the length of these two columns. However, I feel this is worthwhile in understanding its context in history, the impact it had in its own time and the possible consequences for the current genealogist.
(In alphabetical order - not necessarily in order of value):
BOOKS (Other books were consulted to ensure accuracy in historical dates but these were the most used):
Duncan, David Ewing. Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year. New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1998.
Holidays and Anniversaries of the World. Ed. Jennifer Mossman. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990, 2nd ed.
The Lincoln Library of Essential Information. Columbus, Ohio: The Frontier Press Company, 1970. "Festivals and Holidays", pp. 2069-2075.
O'Neil, William Matthew. Time and the Calendars. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press, 1975.
(These are sites deemed worthwhile for the reasons listed below each. It is not a complete list as those of little value are excluded.)
Correct View of the New French Calendar for the year 1793, commencing September 22. http://homepages.iol.ie/~fagann/1798/calendar.htm
(Table showing FRC month names, meanings and Gregorian beginning and ending dates but spelling and date errors found.)
More Quebec/French Research Resources