JANUARY 1ST – NEW YEAR’S DAY & ALMANACS

From the Kalendar of Shepherdes (illus. 1529)

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
8 Maids a Milking; 7 Swans a Swimming; 6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds; 3 French Hens; 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

The 8th day is the day of the Throbbing Head. Leonard Cohen wrote in ‘Closing Time’ about drinking to excess. I like to think he refers to Christmas and New Year’s Day:

And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
And it’s once for the devil and it’s once for Christ
But the boss don’t like these dizzy heights
We’re busted in the blinding lights of closing time.

We are probably too pained to think about the New Year and our resolutions but we might begin to turn to an almanac to see what the year has ahead. Newspapers and the web have now taken over largely from Almanacs. They print articles about the upcoming highlights of the Sporting Year or the Musical year and so one. But almanacs are still produced and arguably grew from medieval manuscript Books of Hours and, in particular, the 1493 Kalendar of Shepherdes which was published in Paris. Each month was described with the addition of important information for farmers. By the 1600’s almanacs were the most published form of book other than the Bible. Lauren Kassell in ‘Almanacs and Prognostications’ reports estimates that by 1660 one third of every household had one.

Not an advert but a screen shot!

Originally, they had a Calendar for each month, and information about the phases of the month, and the tides, predictions of the weather, and health issues likely to occur at that time of the year. Astrology was an important element of them. London Almanacs contained further information about the year and its ceremonies and elections of officials. And this informational side to the almanac grew, they began to include lists such as lists of monarchs, and interesting stories, verse foretelling the weather, recipes and cures. This are the source of most of the quotes used in blogs such as mine which look at all things calendrical.

Cover page of the Illustrated london almanack for 1867

So here, translated from the French is January.

Verse about January from the Kalendar of Shepherde's (translated from the 1493 Paris edition)
January from the Kalendar of Shepherde’s (translated from the 1493 Paris edition)

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