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Le Jour de la Révolution (Leap Year Day, According to the French)

 Today is one day out of 1,460 days — Leap Year Day — the extra day that comes only once every four years. If we didn’t have it, “our calendar would be totally scrambled,” said Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in an article in USA Today by Dan Vergano (Leap Year).

It’s tough to get one’s head around, but according to astronomers and mathematicians, the Earth actually circles the sun in 365.2425 days — not exactly a round number, so to get the calendar back into sync, we add February 29th just one time in four.

And guess what? Even that doesn’t quite get to one full day. Simply multiply .2425 (the extra bit) by 4 years and it’s shy of 100% by .03% days — in other terms, 43 minutes and 12 seconds. So, what do we do with that?

We have the Pope to thank for keeping Easter on track — Pope Gregory XIII started the Gregorian calendar in 1584. As I understand it, “every year that is evenly divided by four is a leap year, except for turn-of-the-century ones ending with an ’00’ such as 1900 or 2100, that aren’t divisible by 400.”

Leap Year Day Babies are reportedly in the millions, and they only get to celebrate their real birthdays once every four years. That could be a good thing — if you only get older once every four years. Although when you do, the leap is big and you get older much faster! Not sure I’d like that very much.

29-2-12leapyear29-2-12frenchrepublicancalendarThe French Republican Calendar29-2-12mermaid1 by Erica SimonePhoto by Erica Simone

It’s an old Irish legend that says that women who propose to men on this day get lucky, as the men have to accept. It was the basis for the 2010 Amy Adams comedy film, “Leap Year.”

And leave it to the French to have their own idea about the calendar. They created the “Republican Calendar” about the time of the French Revolution. It was implemented between 1793 and 1805 and for just 18 days by the Paris commune in 1871. Designed to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, it was part of an attempt to “decimalize” France (base their currency and measurements to the power of 10 — hence the metric system).

Instead of January, February, March, and so on, we’d be dealing with a whole different set of monthly names and dates — which more resemble the astrological calendar and from an agricultural point of view, seem to make more sense:

Vendémiaire: Grape Harvest Month, starting 22, 23 or 24 September
Brumaire: Fog Month, starting 22, 23 or 24 October
Frimaire: Frost Month, starting 21, 22 or 23 November
Nivôse: Snowy Month, starting 21, 22 or 23 December
Pluviôse: Rainy Month, starting 20, 21 or 22 January
Ventôse: Windy Month, starting 19, 20 or 21 February
Germinal: Germination Month, starting 20 or 21 March
Floréal: Flower Month, starting 20 or 21 April
Prairial: Pasture Month, starting 20 or 21 May
Messidor: Harvest Month, starting 19 or 20 June
Thermidor: Summer Heat Month, starting 19 or 20 July
Fructidor: Fruit Month, starting 18 or 19 August

The year was divided into months and each month was divided into three “décades” of 10 days, of which the final day was a day of rest. In an effort to “de-Christianize” the calendar, it became unpopular because the work days stretched to nine before having a day off of work, whereas the Gregorian Calendar had only six. (Imagine how the French hated that!?)

The ten days were called (and don’t they make sense?):

1. Primidi
2. Duodi
3. Tridi
4. Quartidi
5. Quintidi
6. Sextidi
7. Septidi
8. Octidi
9. Nonidi
10. Decadi.

The five or six extra days became festival days (how French is that?!) and followed the last day of Fructidor. They were called:

1. Fête de la vertu (Celebration of virtue)
2. Fête du genie (Celebration of genius)
3. Fête du travail (Celebration of labor)
4. Fête de l’opinion (Celebration of opinion)
5. Fête des recompenses (Celebration of rewards)…

And of course…

6. Jour de la revolution (Day of the revolution — the leap day)

If you’re a student of French culture, you’d see that not much has changed since the French Republican Calendar was first conceived. The French are still trying to de-Christianize, decimalize, work less and celebrate more!

What’s wrong with that?

A la prochaine…

Adrian-Leeds-Paris thumbAdrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. I’m leaping to Nice later today on Air France for a weekend at Nice Carnaval in the sun. Monday, I’ll be writing a “Parler Nice” from the Blue Coast (aka the Riviera).

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