A Month of Sundays
By Allan Eastman
The Peasants Are Revolting
The black hooded Executioner yanks the rope that releases the guillotine blade from its locked position at the top of the tall wooden framework. It swishes down its internal grooves, then the razor sharp angled leading edge efficiently lops off the head of another Enemy of the State. The Executioner lifts the spurting severed head by its hair from the wicker basket into which it fell and brandishes it around to titillate the jeering crowds that throng the Place de la Concorde.
It is 22 September, 1793.
And in Paris, the Reign of Terror is just getting into full swing.
Having beheaded King Louis XVI 9 months earlier and decapitated a good proportion of the Landed Nobility that hadn’t already run for their lives out of France, the Revolution has now turned inward and is beginning to devour its own.
No fool, Lafayette high tails it for the Swiss border.
The French Revolution had too many causes – Hunger, War, National Debt – but what truly animated the overthrow of traditional Royal Power was a new kind of thinking, thinking that wanted to destroy Feudalism once and for all and bring into being a Brave New World of Democracy and Reason and Rational Thought. And still, despite all the blood and chaos and horror on the streets, many very serious people are working hard to create this New World they envision.
On this very day, a new Calendar is proudly proclaimed to replace all previous methods of telling Time and quantifying dates. It promises to sweep away all the illogical and superstitious underpinnings of a system that had come down through the Ages and substitute a scientific order on the way Humans measure Time.
It declares confidently that this is the First Day of Year One.
This radical calendar takes its method from the new Decimal measurements of distance, weights and volumes that are also being instituted at the same time – metres, kilometres, grams, kilograms, litres, et al – and this new way of measuring Time is also based on the Metric system.
A Year still has 12 Months but every Month is an equal 30 days long. An extra 5 or 6 days is added to the end of the year as a kind of Festival to keep the calendar in step with the actual astronomical year as well as account for the quadrennial Leap Years.
Each Month consists of 3 Weeks of 10 Days. Each Day has 10 Hours, each Hour has 100 Minutes and each Minute 100 Seconds.
What could be more logical?
Well, we all know how that ended up...
Although the efficient metric system of distance and weights eventually caught on everywhere in the World– except the USA – this Metric Calendar was used only in France and lasted exactly 12 years. People hated the new Calendar because it only gave them 1 day off in 10 instead of the traditional 1 in 7 and they couldn’t get their heads around an Hour that lasted for 144 Minutes, or a Minute that lasted 86.4 Seconds.
Nobody knew what Time it was anymore.
The self crowned Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the new Metric system in 1805 and France went back to the dusty old Ancient calendar and clock.
Still, it was a brave attempt by those Revolutionary Modernists, applying the principles of Science to reform a system that had grown out of mystical practices in the dim prehistory of Human civilization. That old system had became a standard that most of us still accept but very few of us know how it came into being.
Or really, if you think about it, how arbitrary it all is.
So that’s what we’re going to attempt to dig into this month here on timeanddate.com.
Oh, and by the way, if that French Revolutionary Calendar had caught on in the same way as metres and kilograms and litres, the date as I write this – Friday, 9 April, 2010 – would be Decadi, 20 Germinal, 218.
Just as well...