French republican calendar: AD 1793

The calendar devised during 1793 by a committee of the Republican convention in Paris combines the rational and the impractical in a way characteristic of much French revolutionary activity. It is entirely logical and slightly ridiculous.

The intention is to celebrate the French introduction of a new world era and to sweep away the religious superstitions of the past. By a happy coincidence the first day after the abolition of the monarchy in 1792 is the autumn equinox (September 22), suggesting that even the planetary system recognizes a new beginning. This date now becomes the first day of Year I in the republican calendar.

The Gregorian reform of the calendar has established the necessary system of leap years, which the committee can only follow. However they are free to divide the 365 days of the normal year on a more rational basis than the traditional Months and weekdays. They go for twelve Months of 30 days, subdivided into three Weeks of 10 days (with a day of rest on every tenth day rather than every seventh, implying a revolutionary increase in productivity).

The five extra days are grouped as holidays at the end of the year and are called sansculottides. (A sans-culotte, meaning 'without knee-breeches', is the contemporary phrase for a revolutionary - describing someone radical enough to wear the more informal trousers).

The ten weekdays are named unimaginatively by their numbers, but a great deal of effort is put into finding vivid names for the Months. These are devised by the poet Fabre d'Églantine, a close friend of Danton's (they die together on the scaffold six Months after the calendar is adopted).

Fabre d'Églantine's names reflect the changing weather and crops of the year, with considerable effort being made to find verbal rhythms to suit the moods of the seasons. His Months are Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire (the autumn), Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse (winter), Germinal, Floréal, Prairial (spring), Messidor, Thermidor, Fructidor (summer).

A satirical version is immediately provided by George Ellis, an English poet deeply hostile to French revolutionary pretensions. He translates d'Églantine's efforts (beginning in January 1 with Nivôse) as: 'Snowy, Flowy, Blowy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Hoppy, Croppy, Droppy, Breezy, Sneezy, Freezy'.

The system is imposed by the French on all the sister republics set up in Europe from 1795 (though as a calendar for a new world era it is unfortunate that the names of the Months only match the seasons in the northern hemisphere). However it is abruptly dropped by Napoleon in 1805, when he wants to improve relationships with the pope. France reverts to the Gregorian calendar on 1 January 1806.