September 22: 1st Vendémiaire

French Republican CalendarDuring the French Revolution, the French Republic tried to do away with nearly everything associated with the old regime. Chief amongst these changes were a new system of weights and measures and a new calendar. The first of these ideas, the metric system, was a great success; the other, the French Republican Calendar, was a failure.

When the Calendar was first announced in 1793 it was decided that the calendar’s epoch would be September 22, 1792, or according to the Calendar’s dating system, 1st Vendémiaire of the 1st Year of the Republic. So, happy French Republican New Year, everybody!

How exactly did this calendar work? The French Republican Calendar was arranged into 12 months. Each month was divided into 30 days, and those 30 days were divided into three ten-day weeks. Simple enough. However, the French didn’t want to stick with the names of the old months and instead wanted something more distinctly French! So, new months were created, all with names representative of the season they were a part of:

Vendémiaire (from vindemia, Latin for “grape harvest”), Brumaire (from brume, French for “fog”), Frimaire (from frimas, French from “frost”), Nivôse (from nivosus, Latin for “snowy”), Pluviôse (from pluvius, Latin for “rainy”), Ventôse (from ventosus, Latin for “windy”), Germinal (from germen, Latin for “germination”), Floréal (from flos, Latin for “flower”), Prairial (from prairie, French for “pasture”), Messidor (from messis, Latin from “harvest”), Thermidor (from thermon, Greek for “summer heat”), and Fructidor (from fructus, Latin for “fruit”).

Obviously, these names were ripe for parody, and a few British satirists decided to rename the months as Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

If you’re keeping track, you probably noticed that with 12 30-day months, the Calendar seemed to only account for 360 days. Well, an additional five days were added at the end of the year that were part of no month. They were les sans-culottides, later known as les jours complémentaires. Les jours complémentaires were a week of national holidays that celebrated the values of the Republic. The five jours complémentaires were the Celebration of  Virtue, Talent, Labor, Convictions and Honors, respectively. In Leap Years a six day, the Celebration of the Revolution, was added.

Now, you might be surprised to learn that this new dating system was never too popular. Although it was used in official documents, the Calendar never really caught on. Many people still preferred the old days and months, and in 1802 it was decided that although the Calendar’s system of 30-day months would stay, the old Sunday through Saturday names for the days of the week would return. Finally, Napoleon did away with the whole calendar on January 1, 1806. All in all, the French Republican Calendar only lasted 12 years.

So, although the French Republican Calendar hasn’t been used in over 200 years, we can still celebrate the 223rd Year of the Republic with a French Martini. What makes this drink French? Well, although it is a vodka based drink, the key ingredient to this drink is the raspberry liqueur Chambord, which was first produced in France’s Loire Valley during the late 17th century, and was a great favorite of King Louis XIV. Since the calendar was a failure, I thought it would be appropriate to sip on a cocktail which uses a liquor tied to the old regime.

French Martini

  • 1 1/2 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Chambord
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with fresh raspberries skewered on a toothpick.

Tomorrow: My Goodness, My Guinness!


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