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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quarter Days

For societies located in the temperate latitudes, the turning of the seasons provide a natural division of the year into quarters. In Britain, the Quarter Days, used at least since the Middle Ages, mark these four major parts of the year.

The four Quarter Days in southern England, Wales and Ireland are:
Lady Day - March 25, Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the traditional day for hiring farm workers for the coming year
Midsummer - June 24, Feast of St John the Baptist, the midpoint of the growing season
Michaelmas - September 29, Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, start of the harvest
Christmas - December 25, Feast of the Birth of Jesus, high point of the year, when farm workers were paid for the year's labor

The Quarter Days originally referred to the agricultural cycle. But because they're easy to remember, they became the markers for other events and obligations. Servants were traditionally hired and paid on these dates. Rents were due then, giving rise to their other name of Gale (or Rent) Days. In England, leasehold payments and business premises rents are still often due on the Quarter Days. Since the dates were already associated with debts, other debts were usually also paid then, too.

The Quarter Days were also used for legal matters. At those times, justices of the peace discharged their responsibilities for dealing with taxes and the care of roads, and could order the constables to pay the amount of money owed the poor.

School terms remain loosely linked with the Quarter Days. For example, Michaelmas term at Cambridge runs from October through December, the Lent term from January to March, and the Easter term from April to June.

In the northern part of England and in Scotland, the four Quarter Days (also called Old Scottish Term Days in Scotland) are:
Candlemas - February 2, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary
Whitsunday - May 15, Feast of the Holy Spirit
Lammas - August 1, Feast of St Peter’s Deliverance from Prison
Martinmas - November 11, Feast of St Martin the Bishop

Note that the days are different for England and Scotland. Both mark the start of the seasons, but according to different calendars. The English Quarter Days roughly align with the astronomical seasons, while the Scottish Quarter Days mark (more or less) the start of the seasons according to the Celtic calendar. These Scottish days correspond more closely, but not exactly, to the cross-quarter days, or mid-season days, of the English calendar.

More on the cross-quarter days next time.

Thank you all,


Stephanie Burkhart said...

I knew the days, but not the revelavance in the big picture. Thanks for sharing this!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting especially about the difference between the English and Scottish quarter days.
Loved the chart.

catslady said...

That was something totally new to me - very interesting.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Steph, glad I was able to fill in some of the holes.

Anonymous, I didn't know the Quarter Days were different, either, until I looked them up.

Hi catslady. I had seen references to Quarter Days, but I was never sure what they were, either.

Rachel Lynne said...

Great post! I've read historicals, especially Regency, for years and for some reason I've never looked up the meaning of Quarter Days, though I've encountered the term many, many times.
Thanks for the info!

Linda Banche said...

You're welcome, Rachel. Glad to help.

Russell Bywater said...

you have not dealt with the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar- 25tTh March(Lady's Day) marked the end of one fiscal year and the start of the new one. When we changed to the Gregorian Calender 25th March became 5th/6th April(can't remember whether it was last day of fiscal year or first day of new fiscal year) hence the very odd dates we have in Britain for the start and end of the tax year