In British and Irish tradition, the quarter days were the four dates in each year on which servants were hired, and rents were due. They fell on four religious festivals roughly three months apart and close to the two solstices and two equinoxes.
The significance of quarter days is now limited, although leasehold payments and rents for business premises in England are often still due on the old English quarter days.
The quarter days have been observed at least since the Middle Ages:
The English quarter days (also observed in Wales and the Channel Islands) are:
Lady Day was also the first day of the year in the British Empire (excluding Scotland) until 1752 (when it was harmonised with the Scottish practice of 1 January being New Year's Day). The British tax year still starts on 'Old' Lady Day (6 April under the Gregorian calendar corresponded to 25 March under the Julian calendar).
The cross-quarter days are four holidays falling in between the quarter days: Candlemas, May Day (1 May), Lammas, and All Hallows (1 November). The Scottish term days, which fulfil a similar role as days on which rents are paid, correspond more nearly to the cross-quarter days than to the English quarter days.
There is a mnemonic for remembering on which day of the month the first three quarter days fall (Christmas being easy to recall): The second digit of the day of the month equals the number of letters in the month's name; i.e. Lady Day is 25 March, and March has five letters; similarly June has four letters and September nine, so Midsummer Day and Michaelmas fall on the 24th and 29th.
The Irish quarter days were observed on the same days as in England but are no longer generally observed.
The "Old Scottish term days" were:
These were also the dates of the Quarter Days observed in northern England until the 18th century.
The dates for removals and for the employment of servants of Whitsunday and Martinmas were changed in 1886 to 28 May and 28 November respectively. The Term & Quarter Days (Scotland) Act 1990 redefined the "Scottish term days", in official use, as the 28th of February, May, August and November respectively. The Act specifies that the new dates take effect on 13 June 1991 (12 months from the date it was passed).
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