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Lady Day

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This article concerns the holiday. For the Lou Reed song, see Berlin (album). For notable women known as "Lady Day," see Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.

In the Christian calendar, Lady Day is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (25 March) and the first of the four traditional Irish and English quarter days. The "Lady" was the Virgin Mary. The term derives from Middle English, when some nouns lost their genitive inflections. "Lady" would later gain an -s genitive ending, and therefore the name means "Lady's day."

Non-religious significance

In England, Lady Day was New Year's Day up to 1752 when, following the move from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, 1 January became the start of the year. A vestige of this remains in the United Kingdom's tax year, which starts on 6 April, i.e. Lady Day adjusted for the lost days of the calendar change (until this change Lady Day had been used as the start of the legal year). (The liturgical and calendar years should be distinguished. It appears that in England and Wales, from at least the late 14th C., New Year's Day was celebrated on 1 January as part of Yule.[1])

As a year-end and quarter day that conveniently did not fall within or between the seasons for plowing and harvesting, Lady Day was a traditional day on which year-long contracts between landowners and tenant farmers would begin and end in England and nearby lands (although there were regional variations). Farmers' time of "entry" into new farms and onto new fields was often this day[2][3]. As a result, farming families who were changing farms would travel from the old farm to the new one on Lady Day. After the calendar change, "Old Lady Day" (6 April), the former date of the Annunciation, largely assumed this role. The date is significant in some of the works of Thomas Hardy, e.g., Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd.

The logic of using Lady Day as the start of the year is that it roughly coincides with Equinox (when the length of day and night is equal) and it is worthy to note many ancient cultures still utilse this time frame as the start of the new year, for example Iranian new year. In some traditions it also reckons years A.D. from the moment of the Annunciation, which is considered to take place at the moment of the conception of Jesus at the Annunciation rather than at the moment of his birth at Christmas.

See also

References

  1. See Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Fytte Three
  2. Adams, Leonard P. "Agricultural Depression and Farm Relief in England, 1813–1852" Reviewed in Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 95(4):735-737 (1932)
  3. "The Tenant League v. Common Sense" Irish Quarterly Review 1(1):25-45 (March, 1851)
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