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The Months

Our arbitrary division of the year into twelve months, has manifestly taken its origin in the natural division determined by the moon's revolutions.

The month of nature, or lunar revolution, is strictly 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 3 seconds; and there are, of course, twelve such. periods, and rather less than 11 days over, in a year. From an early period, there were efforts among some of the civilized nations to arrange the year in a division accordant with the revolutions of the moon ; but they were all strangely irregular till Julius Caesar reformed the Calendar, by establishing the system of three years of 365 followed by one (bissextile) of 366 days, and decreed that the latter should be divided as follows:

Januarius 31 days
Februarius 30
Martins 31
Aprilis 30
Mains 31
Junius 30
Quintilis (altered to Julius) 31
Sextilis 30
September 31
October 31
November 31
December 30
  365

The general idea of Caesar was, that the months should consist of 31 and 30 days alternately; and this was effected in the bissextile or leap-year, consisting, as it did, of twelve times thirty with six over. In ordinary years, consisting of one day less, his arrangement gave 29 days to Februarius. Afterwards, his successor Augustus had the eighth of the series called after himself, and from vanity broke up the regularity of Caesar's arrangement by taking another day from February to add to his own month, that it might not be shorter than July; a change which led to a shift of October and December for September and November as months of 31 days. In this arrangement, the year has since stood in all Christian countries.

The Roman names of the months, as settled by Augustus, have also been used in all Christian countries excepting Holland, where the following set of names prevails:

January Lauwmaand chilly month
February Sprokkelmaand vegetation month
March Lentemaand spring month
April Grasmaand grass month
May Bloeimaand flower month
June Zomermaand summer month
July Hooimaand hay month
August Oogstmaand harvest month
September Herfstmaand autumn month
October Wijnmaand wine month
November Slachtmaand slaughter month
December Wintermaand winter month

'These characteristic names of the months are the remains of the ancient Gaulish titles, which were also used by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.' Brady.

Amidst the heats of the Revolution, the French Convention, in October 1793, adopted a set of names for the months, somewhat like that kept up in Holland, their year standing thus:

  French Months Significance English Months
  Vindemaire Vintage Sept. 22. Autumn
Autumn Brurnaire Foggy Oct. 22
  Frimaire Frosty or Sleety Nov. 21
  Nivose Snowy Dec. 21
Winter Pluviose Rainy Jan. 20
  Ventose Windy Feb. 19
  Germinal Springing or Budding Mar. 21
Spring Floreal Flowery Apr. 20
  Prairial Hay Harvest May 20
  Messidor Corn Harvest June 19
Summer Thermidor Hot July 19
  Fructidor Fruit Aug. 18

Five days at the end, corresponding to our 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st of September, were supplementary, and named sans-culottides, in honour of the half-naked populace who took so prominent a part in the affairs of the Revolution. At the same time, to extinguish all traces of religion in the calendar, each month was divided into three decades, or periods of ten days, whereof the last was to be a holiday, the names of the days being merely expressive of numbers—Primidi, Duodi, Tredi, &c. And this arrangement was actually maintained for several years, with only this peculiarity, that many of the people preferred holding the Christian Sunday as a weekly holiday.

The plan was ridiculed by an English wit in the following professed translation of the new French Calendar:

'Autumn—wheezy, sneezy, freezy.
Winter—slippy, drippy, nippy.
Springshowery, flowery, bowery.
Summer—happy, croppy, poppy'

'Thirty days hath September,
 April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
But February twenty-eight alone,
Except in leap-year, once in four,
When February has one day more.'

Sir Walter Scott, in conversation with a friend, adverted jocularly to `that ancient and respect-able, but unknown poet who had given us the invaluable formula, Thirty days bath September, &c.' It is truly a composition of considerable age, for it appears in a play entitled The Return from Parnassus, published in 1606, as well as in Winter's Cambridge Almanac for 1635.

From what has here been stated introductorily, the reader will be, in some measure, prepared to enter on a treatment of the individual days of the year. Knowing how the length of the year has been determined, how it has been divided into months, and how many days have been assigned to each of these minor periods, he will understand on what grounds men have proceeded in various seasonal observations, as well as in various civil and religious arrangements. He has seen the basis, in short, of both the Calendar and the Almanac.

Part III: On The Year