J. R. R. Tolkien in Appendix D to his The Lord of the Rings (published 1955) gives an explanation of the Shire Calendar used by his fictional Hobbits of the Shire. The calendar is closely based on the historical Anglo-Saxon calendar reported by Bede.
The same appendix gives more information on the Shire Calendar's background in the fictional history of Middle-earth, stating that the Shire Reckoning is a conservative continuation of the calendar of Númenór as used in Middle-earth during the Second Age, but revised in the Third Age by Mardil and Hador, the first and seventh ruling Stewards of Gondor. The Hobbits retained the unreformed King's Reckoning, but introduced a reform that resulted in a fixed number of weeks (in imitation of the historical 10th-century Icelandic calendar). Appendix D further gives some information on the Reckoning of Rivendell, the calendar used by the Elves in Imladris (Rivendell), which divided the solar year into six "seasons" or "long months". The only allusion to a calendar of the Dwarves is made in The Hobbit, regarding the "dwarves' New Year" or Durin's Day.
Tolkien repeatedly stresses that his legendarium is set in a remote past of our Earth (as opposed to a completely fictional or mythological world), and he gives intercalation methods used by the Númenóreans that amount to an average length of a year of 365.24 days and an average year in the 'Reckoning of Rivendell' of 52595⁄144≈365.24306 days. With the caveat "if the year was then of the same length as now" Tolkien goes on to discuss historical intercalation made by the Númenóreans and their descendants during the Second and Third Ages, assuming a tropical year of 365.2422 days.
Year 1 of the Shire Calendar corresponded when the Shire was founded by the Bree Hobbits Marcho and Blanco in the year 1601 of the Third Age. Therefore, years of the Third Age can be converted to Shire-years by subtracting 1600. The last year of the Third Age was year 1421 on the Shire calendar. A year in the Shire was the same length as our year - 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds. The Shire's calendar year was also divided into 12 months but all of 30 days. Five additional days were added to create a 365-day year. The months followed the lunar cycle.
For the names of the months, Tolkien used reconstructed names derived from the Anglo-Saxon calendar; in other words, they are Tolkien's take on what English would be actually using now if it had not adopted Latin names for the months (January, February, March, etc.).
|Month number||Name||Approximate relationship to Gregorian calendar|
|2 Yule||22 December|
|1||Afteryule||23 December to 21 January|
|2||Solmath||22 January to 20 February|
|3||Rethe||21 February to 22 March|
|4||Astron||23 March to 21 April|
|5||Thrimidge||22 April to 21 May|
|6||Forelithe||22 May to 20 June|
|1 Lithe||21 June|
|Mid-year's Day||22 June|
|2 Lithe||23 June|
|7||Afterlithe||24 June to 23 July|
|8||Wedmath||24 July to 22 August|
|9||Halimath||23 August to 21 September|
|10||Winterfilth||22 September to 21 October|
|11||Blotmath||22 October to 20 November|
|12||Foreyule||21 November to 20 December|
|1 Yule||21 December|
The Yuledays were the days that signify the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one, so 2 Yule was the first day of the year. The Lithedays are the three days in the middle of the year, 1 Lithe, Mid-year's Day, and 2 Lithe. In leap years (every fourth year except centennial years) a day was added after Mid-year's Day called Overlithe. All these days were placed outside of any month. These days were primarily holidays and feast days. Mid-year's Day is meant to correspond to the summer solstice, which Tolkien describes as being 10 days earlier than the middle day of our year. However, since then the summer solstice has shifted slightly so it falls on a different date now, rendering the difference between Mid-year's Day and the middle day of our year eleven days, instead of ten.
There were seven days in the Shire week. The first day of the week was called Sterday and the last day of the week was called Highday. The Mid-year's Day and, when present, Overlithe had no weekday assignments. This arrangement was used because it caused every day to have the same weekday designation from year to year (instead of changing as in the Gregorian calendar).
|Day Name||Meaning||Relationship to Gregorian calendar|
|Sterday||Stars of Varda||Saturday|
|Trewsday||Two Trees of Valinor||Tuesday|
Highday was a holiday with evening feasts. Tolkien states that Highday was more equivalent to our Sunday, and so translated the names of days used one of Bilbo's songs as "Saturday" and "Sunday" rather than Mersday and Highday.
Lithe is a Midsummer holiday in the Shire. It is mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring. Lithe fell between Forelithe, the sixth month of the year, and Afterlithe, the seventh month. In most years there were three Lithedays: 1 Lithe, Midyear's Day, and 2 Lithe. In Leap-years there was a fourth Litheday called Overlithe between Midyear's Day and 2 Lithe. Midyear's Day and Overlithe were not assigned any weekday, while 1 Lithe always fell on a Friday and 2 Lithe was a Saturday. Lithe and the Midwinter holiday called Yule were the two major holidays in the Shire. Lithe was a time of great feasting and merriment. During Lithe, the Free Fair was held on the White Downs, where Hobbits gathered to celebrate and to buy and sell goods. Every seven years at the Free Fair during Lithe, an election was held for the office of Mayor of Michel Delving. In the years that Overlithe occurred, it was a day of special celebration. Overlithe fell during the Great Year of Plenty in 3020 after the War of the Ring, and it was the merriest holiday in the history of the Shire.
The word lithe is from the Old English líða. This may have been the name for Midsummer, while ærra Líða and æftera Líða were used for the months June and July. The word lithe means "mild, balmy" in relation to the weather.
The Hobbits, who had adopted the King's Reckoning, altered it in a different way from the Steward's Reckoning. Like the Steward's Reckoning, they had twelve months of thirty days, and five holidays outside the months. However, they had three "extra" days in midsummer and two in midwinter, similar to the Elven calendar. In the Shire the three days of midsummer were called Lithedays, and the two days of midwinter were the Yuledays. In leap years, the extra day was added to the Lithedays and called Overlithe. The other innovation in the Shire calendar was to make Midsummer's Day (and the Overlithe) outside the week, as well as the month, meaning the days of the week would not change in relation to the days of the year. The Shire Reckoning is the calendar used in the Red Book of Westmarch, and hence in The Lord of the Rings. It counts from the founding of the Shire in T.A. 1600.
The Hobbit names of the months came from names used in the vales of Anduin in antiquity, and their meanings were often obscure or forgotten. They were:
|Shire name||Bree name|
|2 Yule||2 Yule|
|1 Lithe||First Summerday|
|Midyear's Day||Second Summerday|
|2 Lithe||Third/Fourth Summerday|
|1 Yule||1 Yule|
(Given the decidedly Old English sound of these names, it can be assumed that this is Tolkien's "translation" of the archaic Westron.)
Overlithe only occurred in leap years. 2 Yule corresponds with December 22.
The Shire's fictional Yule consisted of two days called 1 Yule and 2 Yule. The last day of the year was 1 Yule and the first day of the next year was 2 Yule. The Yuledays fell between the months called Foreyule and Afteryule and were not part of either month. 1 Yule was always on a Friday and 2 Yule fell on Saturday.
Yule was one of the two chief holidays in the Shire—the other being the midsummer holiday called Lithe. The Yule celebrations lasted six days in total, including two days before and two days after the Yuledays. This six-day period was called Yuletide. It was a time of feasting and merriment.
After the War of the Ring, it was feared that the Yule feasts would be rather meagre due to shortages of provisions in the Shire. But large stores of food and beer were found in the tunnels of Michel Delving and in the quarries at Scary and in other places, so the Yuledays were a time of great cheer.
The Elves did not have a celebration at midwinter. It appears that the Rohirrim maintained the custom of celebrating the midwinter holiday as their ancestors the Northmen had done. The name of the holiday in Rohan is not known but it was most likely similar to "Yule."
Calendar of Imladris
The Calendar of Imladris (Rivendell) is briefly mentioned in Appendix D as the only Eldarin calendar described (within the fiction of manuscript tradition employed by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings) by the Hobbits in the Red Book of Westmarch. In the same passage, some background is given on Elvish time-reckoning more generally:
- "the Quenya word yén, often translated "year", really means 144 of our years. The Eldar preferred to reckon in sixes and twelves as far as possible. A 'day' of the sun they called ré and reckoned from sunset to sunset. The yén contained 52,596 days. For ritual rather than practical purposes the Eldar oberved a week or enquië of six days; and the yén contained 8,766 of these enquiër
The Elves also have a regular 365-day solar year called coranar meaning "sun-round" or more commonly loa meaning "growth". The Elven year, which began near the northward equinox, is divided into six seasons or 'months' which consist of four 54-day months and two 72-day months. Five or eight extra days outside the seasons make the length of the loa 365 or 368 days. Most years are 365 days, but every twelfth year is 368 days, resulting in an average year of 365.25 days with the additional suggestion that the 'Reckoning of Rivendell' made a further correction by omitting the three extra days in every third yén (once every 432 years), for an average year length of 52595⁄144≈365.24306 days.
|Quenya name||Sindarin name||English translation||Duration|
Five other days, two between coirë and tuilë and three between yávië and quellë, meant the calendar added up to 365 days. Irregularities were allowed for by adding another three days every twelve years, except the last year of a yén.
The calendar adopted by the Men of Middle-earth was called the King's Reckoning, and was very similar to our own. It had a week of seven days, and divided the 365-day year of the Elves into twelve months (astar), ten with 30 days and two with 31. They retained the two days between the end of one year and the start of the next (mettarë and yestarë), but reduced the mid-year days to one (loëndë, essentially adding the other two to the mid-year "long months"). Leap years had two mid-year days. In the Second and Third Ages, years were reckoned from the beginning of the Age.
Various irregularities occurred in this calendar, especially following the Downfall. In T.A. 2060, Mardil Voronwë revised the calendar, and the new version became the Steward's Reckoning. The months of Steward's Reckoning all had 30 days, and there were two additional "extra" days at the equinoxes, tuilérë and yáviérë. The five extra days (the equinoxes, midsummer and two at midwinter) were holidays.
In T.A. 3019, the Reunited Kingdom adopted a New Reckoning, which began the year on March 25, the date of the downfall of Sauron. This made it correspond more closely to the spring beginning of the Elven calendar.
|Quenya name||Sindarin name||Meaning|
|Súlimë||Gwaeron||windy / wind month|
|Víressë||Gwirith||new / young / budding? |
|Ringarë||Girithron||cold / shivering month|
According to Jim Allan in An Introduction to Elvish, the Númenórean Calendar was similar to the French Republican Calendar. For example, the names of the third month of Winter, Súlímë and Ventôse, both mean 'Windy'. When lined up in this way, most of the month names have matching or similar meanings.
- "The first day of the dwarves' New Year [...] is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter."
In The Hobbit, the writing on the map that Gandalf had received from Thráin II mentioned Durin's Day. It predicted that on Durin's Day the last light of the Sun as night fell would reveal the secret door into the Lonely Mountain.
Astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer has analysed the astronomical determinants of Durin's Day. He concluded that, as with all real-world lunar calendars, the date of Durin's Day is observational, dependent on the visibility of the first waxing crescent moon.
- "the year no doubt was of the same length [as ours], for long ago as those times are now reckoned in years and lives of men, they were not very remote according to the memory of the Earth" Appendix D.
- This was the value cited in textbooks in the 1940s, e.g. William Marshall Smart, Text-book on Spherical Astronomy Author, 1947, p. 141.
- Return of the King, Appendix D
- "Reckoning of Rivendell". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 17 August 2002.
- "How any resulting inaccuracy was dealt with is uncertain. If the year was then of the same length as now, the yén would have ben more than a day too long. That there was an inaccuracy is shown by a not in the Calendars of the Red Book to the effect that in the 'Reckoning of Rivendell' the last year of every third yén was shortened by three days: the doubling of the three enderi due in that year was omitted; 'but that has not happened in our time'.
- Salo 2004, Appendix 6
- Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. sul
- Allan, Jim (1978). An Introduction to Elvish. Grahaeme Young. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-905220-10-9.
- Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. ur
- Lost Tales I, Cottage of Lost Play, pg 41
- Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. hith
- The Hobbit, chapter 3. "A Short Rest".
- Schaefer, Bradley E. (1994). "The Hobbit and Durin’s Day". The Griffith Observer (Griffith Observatory) 58 (11): 12–17.
- The Return of the King: "The Grey Havens," p. 302
- Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The House of Eorl," p. 347
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix D, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Appendix, ISBN 0-395-25730-1
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales 1, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-35439-0
- "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings," p. 200-201
- Salo, David (2004), A Gateway to Sindarin, University of Utah Press, Appendix 6, ISBN 0-87480-800-6
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