Food and garden writer Lia Leendertz is about to release her Almanac for 2019. An Amazon bestseller, it claims to “revive the tradition of the rural almanac”. Well, maybe. It certainly meets the ancient need for annual, practical information about the seasonal and planetary changes of the coming year but it does so with a modern interest in lunar gardening. Gone is the ancient almanac’s assumption that man’s daily work is underpinned by God’s divine plan.
Almanacs were the most frequently printed texts during the three centuries after the printing press came into being. They were small, cheap volumes containing crucial information for the year to come. Their short life span ensured their low survival rate: at the end of the year most almanacs were recycled as toilet paper, seals on pickling jars, wallpaper, garden mulch.
Their information was of local relevance (market days, weather forecasts, maps) and national relevance (news, feast days, the monthly calendar). It was from the planetary arrangements of the year that almanacs provided their readers with medical and agricultural guidance: when to plant, prune, feed and water crops and when to bleed, lance, sweat, fast, rest and exercise the body.
These volumes were steeped in the medieval and early modern belief that God’s plan was written in the stars and that man will reap the greatest blessings by conforming his daily work to the movement of the planets.
They not only predicted the coming year, but also narrated the past. The key (and sometimes only) events in the “history of the world” section of Elizabethan almanacs were: the birth of Christ, the Norman Conquest, Henry VIII’s seizure of Boulogne from the French, Elizabeth’s coronation, and the Spanish Armada.
Rather than record the dates of historical events, the Elizabethan almanac writer John Dade instead provided the number of years that had passed between the event and the year with which the almanac was concerned. In 1602, his list included: the creation of the world (5,564 years before 1602), the conquest of England (586), and Elizabeth’s coronation (44). This information featured on the same page as an overview of the year’s prognostications for when to shear sheep, sell crops and let blood.
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