End of a Revolution – the French Republican Calendar

Two hundred and five years ago today, 31st December 2010, the French Republican Calendar was abolished by Napoleaon. It had come into being in late 1793. (It was briefly revived for 18 days in 1871!)

The new Republican Government that came into power after the Revolution wanted to sweep away as much of the Ancien Régime as possible, and this included the calendar. So Charles Gilbert Romme got together a team to work one out. The team included chemists, mathematicians, astronomers poets and gardeners!

The calendar was brought in retrospectively. It became active on 24 October 1793, and this was declared to be Year II of the Republic. If it’s all starting to sound complicated already, you’re right! This is French bureaucracy after all! Anyway, bear with me. Here are the main points.

Years were written in Roman numerals. The first year began 22 September 1792. The autumn equinox was New Year’s Day effectively.

There were twelve months each divided into three ten-day weeks called decades. The tenth day, the décadi, replaced Sunday as the day of rest. The extra five or six days to keep in line with the solar calendar were placed after the months at the end of the year.

Leap years were called sextiles and the extra leap day every four years marked the end of the ‘franciade’, four year period.

Each day in the calendar was divided into ten hours of 100 minutes consisting of 100 seconds. So an hour was actually 144 conventional minutes long. However, this decimal time didn’t really catch on and was suspended in 1795 although a few places kept using it until 1801.

The twelve months were given names based on nature, and from French or Latin roots mainly, and they predominantly reflected the weather conditions around Paris! They were: Autumn – Vendémiaire (starting around the 22nd Sept, and meaning ‘grape harvest’); Brumaire (fog); Frimaire (frost). Winter – Nivôse (snowy); Pluviôse (rainy); Ventôse (windy). We’re now up to Spring, so starting around 20th March was Germinal (germination); Floréal (flower);  Prairial (prairie, hay field). Finally Summer – Messidor (harvest); Thermidor (summer heat); Fructidor (fruit).

The ten days of the week were much less imaginatively named. They were primidi (first day), duodi (second day), tridi, quartidi, quntidi, sextidi, septidi, octidi, nontidi and décadi.

Instead of days having a patron saint associated with them, days ending in 5 had an animal connected with them, days ending in 0 had a tool, and other days had a plant or mineral. For example, the 1st ten days of Vendémaire had the following assocations: 1st – grape, 2nd – saffron, 3rd – chestnut, 4th – crocus, 5th – horse, 6th – impatiens (bizzie lizzie), 7th – carrot, 8th – amaranth, 9th – parsnip, 10th – vat.

The five (or six, in a leap year) complementary days were national holidays at the end of each year. Originally called sans-culottides (without trousers!) they became known less imaginatively as jours complémentaires after year III (1795).

So there are the bare bones of the Republican Calendar. I think it is utterly fascinating! There are various conversion sites on the web, a couple being http://www.windhorst.org/calendar/ and http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/calendar/.

So why not go Republican in 2011 and use a different method of marking time!

Christmas trees on strike

Ruadhri sang this song at one of his Christmas concerts, and it’s stayed a favourite – La Grève des Sapins by Dominique Dimey.

So I’ve done my own translation of it. Enjoy!

Chorus :

It’s a strike by Christmas Trees

And their pine cones, if you please!

They’ve decided, every one,

That fruit trees have a lot more fun.

Plums are what they’d rather be,

Pears, bananas or cherries,

With juicy fruit and bright berries.

1. By the time year is through,

Christmas trees are tired – it’s true! –

With looking Christmassy for you.

They’re stuck beside a roaring fire,

It’s far too hot, it’s really dire.

No fresh air, no outside view,

Trapped inside the house with you.


2. And, what’s more, they are dismayed

At providing summer shade

Without once ever being paid.

Christmas trees are in a grump,

Yes, they’ve really got the hump.

Even their lovely smelling sap

Can’t make them into happy chaps.


3. So, watch out, because they say

They’re heading off on New Year’s Day,

To take a long, long holiday.

They’re going where the weather’s nice,

They’ve had enough of snow and ice.

They’re off to tan their evergreen –

And catch up on the party scene!

Refrain :

C’est la grève des sapins,

Des aiguilles des pommes de pin.

Ils veulent tous être palmiers,

Cerisiers ou bananiers

Citronnier, abricotier,

Devenir arbres fruitiers,

Jujubier ou grenadier.

1. Les sapins sont fatigués

A la fin de chaque année,

Toutes ces guirlandes à porter.

Les sapins sont enrhumés

De vivre pres de cheminées

Sans air pur, sans horizon,

Enfermés dans des maisons.


2. Les sapins en ont assez

De faire de l’ombre de l’été

Sans être remerciés.

Les sapins font grise mine

Et attrapent des angines

Qu’ils soignent avec du parfum

A la sève de sapin !


3. Les sapins ont declaré

Que pour la nouvelle année

Ils se mettront en congé.

Les sapins s’en vont au vert,

Les sapins quittent l’hiver

Pour aller se faire bronzer

Au chaud sous les cocotiers !

Marking Christmas with a Christmas market

Nouzerines’ Marché de Noël got underway this afternoon. Caitlin has been busy with it for a couple of months now, going down to the school on Saturday mornings to make Christmas decorations and other trinkets to sell on the Comité des Fête’s stall. Benj went down to help one morning but was sent off to clear paths instead – he wasn’t that impressed!

As usual, one of the first activities of the afternoon was the installation of the crèche at St Clair’s in Nouzerines. St Clair’s hosts very few services now – such a shame as it is a beautiful Romanesque church. Every year there is a different theme – this year’s is wool so Ruadhri did some sewing with wool on a swatch I’d knitted, and I took some baskets of alpaca and llama wool. Ruadhri read one of the meditations during the service. We were very proud!

Christmas markets like Nouzerines’ are usually organised by the commune and held in December.  They sell Christmassy things and locally made or produced items. Nouzerines has a dozen craft stalls or so, with some really beautiful things. I’ll take some photos tomorrow to add to the blog.

Marchés de Noël date back to the fourteenth century in Alsace. They were originally known as Marché de St Nicolas. The very famous Strasbourg Christmas market (Christkindelsmärik) began in 1570. This is probably the most famous one in France. Our Benj is thinking of going to Strasbourg University to do languages, starting next year, so that would mean we could get to visit when we pick him up at the end of Autumn Term. I’ve been wanting to go to the market since we came to France.

However, Nouzerines’ Marché de Noël may not be as famous, but it’s a very enjoyable occasion that really brings the community together.  And it marks the start of Christmas for everyone.

Bernard, our black llama, was under consideration to be Père Noël’s companion when he comes to deliver presents to the children at the Marché this year. I spent an afternoon making him a festive blanket in case he was needed. But llamas aren’t very happy with too much noise and excitement  going on around them, so although flattered to be invited, Bernard decided he would be much happier munching hay at home!