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Quarter Days: Happy Belated Lady Day

March 28, 2018 by in category Quarter Days by Alina K. Field, Writing tagged as , , ,

Or should I say, “Happy belated New Year”?

Greetings to my fellow history nerds. It’s time for another installment of my quarterly blog on historical topics.

In past posts, I talked about the English Quarter Days of Christmas,  Midsummer’s Day and Michaelmas.

Lady Day

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.

Why did the New Year’s Date Shift?

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.

Farming and Geese

A crowd chasing a goose. Wellcome Library

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!

Weaving a Story

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

 

 

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