Greetings to my fellow history nerds. It’s time for another installment of my quarterly blog on historical topics.
To refresh your memory, Quarter Days were the four days during the year when rents were paid, servants hired, and contracts commenced. My Christmas blog inspired some comments about when New Year’s was celebrated. Marianne said:
“New Years used to be celebrated on the First Day of Spring. But when we changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian’s calendar, New Years change to January 1st. That’s why September, October, November and December are named the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months—even though they no longer are. While the Gregorian calendar was introduced in October 1582, we didn’t start using it until September 1752. April Fools were people who still celebrated the New Year in the Spring.”
In fact, that first day of spring on which the new year was celebrated was March 25th!
I mentioned before that most of the Quarter Days coincide with astronomical events (like the Vernal Equinox) and Pagan or Christian holidays. In the Catholic tradition which dominated most of Europe until the Reformation, March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, the date on which the Angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary. Thus it’s called Lady Day.
I blogged a bit about the calendar changes in a 2016 Leap Day post. In short, the year began in January when the world ran on the Julian calendar (inaugurated by Julius Caesar) until 1582, when Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian (what else would you call it?) calendar. With the implementation of the Gregorian calendar, countries adopting the calendar lost ten days.
Given that the calendar was devised by Catholics, England resisted and ran on the Julian calendar until 1752. Imagine subtracting ten days (or adding them) to line up your calendars. And vital statistic records, like births, deaths, and marriages? What a mess! As I mention in my 2016 post, George Washington’s birthday in 1732 was not February 22nd but February 11th.
As the first day of spring, Lady Day was the most important Quarter Day for landholders and tenant farmers, and these contracts would run at least a full year to allow for the cycle of planting, cultivation and harvesting. Kathryn Kane has a thorough and well-researched post on this subject at her blog, The Regency Redingote.
Kathryn mentions that Lady Day apparently initiated goose-plucking season. Throughout the warmer months, quills (needed as writing implements) and down were harvested. And when the summer ended with Michaelmas, I seem to remember a feast of roast goose! Poor birds!
I know these are all little pieces of trivia, but as a historical romance author, I never know when I’ll be able to snag a detail or two to add to my story. Or maybe even craft a holiday-themed story, like I did with my latest release, A Leap Into Love, a Regency romance built around Leap Day traditions. I hope you too can find something useful here!
Happy spring! I’ll be back again in June for Midsummer’s Day.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Hi Alina, I love reading your historical posts, and I certainly agree that one little tid-bit can be the spark and creation for a great story. The learning adventure is always worth it. Now, time to go and catch a goose so I can pluck it..
Good luck with that goose! I think they bite!
This was so interesting. I didn’t know any of this. Thanks for the post!
Thanks for sharing the details. I never knew the specifics between Julian and Gregorian but totally understand how calendars would be tied to the agrarian cycle.
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.
I think you misunderstood my comment, Alina. I said New Years was moved from the first day of spring to January 1st, BUT I didn’t mean that the first day of spring was ever considered April 1st. For September to be the seventh month of the year, then March must be considered the first month, even if the new year wasn’t on the 1st day of that month.
Thanks for the clarification, Marianne! Actually, I was happy you jogged my memory with that comment on the earlier post. I KNEW I had researched this topic before for a blog post!
What an interesting post!
Thanks for sharing
Good luck and God’s blessings