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'cause it's easier being a green sinner than a green saint . . .

French Republican Calendar

During the French Revolution (one of my favorite episodes in history), the Republican government sought to do away with many traditions of the monarchy. They were more successful in some of these efforts than others. One of the less bloody attempts to free France from the ancien régime was to institute a new calendar, beginning on the autumnal equinox. The structure of the calendar itself is not too remarkable: 12 months of 30 days each, five intercalary festival days (six in leap years). The months are charmingly named for their seasons, as follows:

  • Autumn:
    • Vendémiaire in French (from Latin vindemia, "grape harvest")
    • Brumaire (from French brume, "fog")
    • Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost")
  • Winter:
    • Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, "snowy")
    • Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, "rainy")
    • Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy")
  • Spring:
    • Germinal (from Latin germen, "germination")
    • Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower")
    • Prairial (from French prairie, "pasture")
  • Summer:
    • Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest")
    • Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, "summer heat")
    • Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruit")

(The British made fun of these, with clever and not inaccurate coinages: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.)

One of the aspects I find most charming about this calendar is that, unlike the old calendar with all those saints and the trappings of the church, each day is dedicated to a plant, animal, tool, or mineral.

So, we think this is will be a fun way to reflect on the importance of various foods, flowers, tools and tasks. We're going to follow the French Republican Calendar through the year and use it as a guiding theme to talk about some seasonal subjects. We're still planning on house updates, random recipes, and so on, but we'd like to keep up with the calendar as well. Some days will be easy and familiar – we're getting started tomorrow with Raisin (grape) – others will be a bit more challenging. (Will I cook a goose on October 26? Tune in and see.) As we go, in some places we may substitute some New World vegetables, fruits, and plants that are more familiar to us here than the originals may have been to the French (skirret? chequers? I had to look them up).

So join us on our journey through the French Republican Calendar. The year starts tomorrow! Bonne année!