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Hop, skip, leap - More about Calendar fiddling, a Green Dragon Friday lecture

posted Mar 4, 2020, 7:04 AM by Peppy Bristlebrush
By Peppy Bristlebrush

This current year is known as a leap year. There are many fascinating things to tell about leap years and why we have them.


I’ll try to answer the following questions:

  • What is a calendar and why do we have or need one?

  • How is a year subdivided? Why the leap years?

  • What are solstices, equinoxes and seasons?

  • When exactly is leap day according to the Hobbit Calendar?


Why do we have a calendar?


A calendar makes it possible to tell where about in the year the current date is. And ofcourse you can see when it is the recurrence of your birthday. But the main reason for its existence is so the farmers can know when to sow and harvest, especially sow. If they sow too early or too late, the yield of the crops will not be optimum.


How is time measured? From that follows: What is a year and how is it subdivided?


We measure time by looking at the sky. We see it turn dark and light and we see the apparent movement of the Sun and the Moon. Let’s start with the Sun.

Each day the Sun comes up above the horizon, travels in an arc across the sky (the moment it is at its highest we call Noon, or mid-day) and then vanishes below the horizon again and night begins.


There is something noteworthy about that arc and the highest point at Noon: throughout the year, the angle it makes with the surface of Middle-Earth changes!



In each year it moves up and then down and again up. At the highest point it seems to stop, that is: it stops going any higher. This is called the (Summer) solstice. That word literally means: the sun stops. There is another solstice in Winter when the sun stops going lower at Noon.


The solstices were important for our ancestors, as well as for us, as they help define the year. The Winter solstice marks for us the beginning of a New Year: we celebrate Yule. So a year is the period between two Winter solstices.  The Summer solstice is celebrated too: It’s Mid-Year’s Day, a day to go out and have a picnic in the Sun!


You may also know, that after Yule the days get longer, not in number of hours (which is always 24) but in hours of light, of sunshine, and after Mid-Year they get shorter. That also means that the nights get shorter, and longer respectively. 


There are two instances in a year where the day is exactly as long as the night. We call them the equinoxes. This word means equal night (and day). They occur in Spring and in Autumn. Together with the solstices, the equinoxes help divide the year into 4 parts, called the Seasons.


Talking again about days (and now we are getting near the need for leap days), how many day-night cycles are there between two Winter solstices? We say 365, which is only partially correct. It is practical to count in whole days and not in fractions. But actually we should, given that a day has 24 hours, a year is exactly 365 days, 5 hours and 48 minutes and 45 seconds! That would be impractical, so we round it down to 365 days. After all, what are 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds compared to the duration of the entire year? Well, almost a quarter of a day, or six hours!


If we want to keep having New Year on the Winter Solstice, something needs to be done, or in four years we will be an entire day short. A clever person concluded: “We need to add an extra day to the year, once every four years”. That is the leap day and the year it occurs in we call a leap year.


But why “leap” day? Consider this: In any ordinary year, if last year your birthday was on, say, a Wednesday then this year it will be on a Thursday. That is because we have weeks of 7 days, 52 of them per year. Aye, but 7x52 equals 364 and that is why all dates in the next year shift one weekday. But when the next year is a leap year, then your birthday would be on a Friday! Your birthday kind of leapt over Thursday! And the dates shift two weekdays.


So, when is the best moment in the leap year to add that leap day? In most cultures, it is added to the end of the shortest month, February. But as you know, the Hobbit Calendar has months that are equal in length! 


Aye, according to the Hobbit Calendar, there are twelve months of 30 days each. But wait, that makes only 360 days! It does and that is why on our Calendar there are 5 days that belong to no month: These days are 1 Yule (New Year’s Eve) and 2 Yule (New Year’s Day) and then at the Summer solstice we have 1 Lithe, Mid-Year’s Day and 2 Lithe. The leap day is inserted after Mid-Year’s Day and is called Overlithe.


((Read more about it here http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Shire_Calendar


To calculate what date it is according to the Shire Calendar, visit http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/dates.php



It may interest you to know that the French Revolutionists also had a calendar with months that had 30 days (and weeks that had 10 days and days of ten hours that consisted of 100 decimal minutes, each minute having 100 decimal seconds. You may see why it never caught on). And they too had five month-less days (or six including a leap day), that were added to the end of the year, which began for them at the Autumnal equinox. A beautifully illustrated article about it can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Republican_calendar#Months ))




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