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  • Updated 17 August 2016
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Shire Calendar

The calendar of the Shire-hobbits

The count of months and days used by the Hobbits of the Shire and, with certain minor modifications, by the people of the Bree-land. The calendar was structured like those of Men (after which it was patterned), breaking down the year into twelve equal months of thirty days each. To complete the calendar, five further days were included: two Yuledays at midwinter and three Lithedays (including Mid-year's Day) at midsummer.

The Shire Calendar divided each year into fifty-two weeks of seven days each, running from a Sterday to a Highday. The calendar was arranged so that the days of the week always fell on the same date each year, so that the first day of every year was a Sterday, and the last a Highday, each falling on one of the two Yuledays.

History

The earliest records we have of the Hobbits' account of time date back to the period of their wandering out of the Vales of Anduin, a period some six centuries before the founding of the Shire. These ancient Hobbits had barely a concept of a calendar, arranging their year from the natural cycles of the Moon. Even the beginning of the year was not fixed: some Hobbits saw it as the beginning of spring, while others placed it at harvest-time (and indeed a remnant of this latter tradition survived as a harvest holiday in the Shire Calendar).

After settling in the Shire (which at that time lay within the kingdom of Arthedain) the Hobbits abandoned their earlier arrangements for a calendar based on the King's Reckoning of the Dúnedain. Following this ancient system, the Shire Calendar divided the year into twelve months (though the Hobbits gave them ancient traditional names from their own history), and from the same source came the idea of the seven-day week. The two calendars were not identical: where the Dúnedain had two months of thirty-one days around Midsummer, the Hobbits reduced these so that all the Shire Calendar's months were a fixed length of thirty days, and inserted two 'Lithedays' around Mid-year's Day to make up the difference.

More than four hundred years after the establishment of the Shire Calendar, Steward Mardil of Gondor introduced a significant revision to the calendar of the Dúnedain that became known as the Stewards' Reckoning. If the Shire-hobbits were aware of this revision, they made no effort to adjust their own calendar accordingly. Centuries later, though, they did make a small adjustment to the Shire Calendar. Thain Isengrim II introduced the 'Shire-reform', by which certain feast-days were removed from the normal weekly cycle. The effect of this change was to fix every date so that it fell on the same day of the week regardless of the year.

Despite its name, the Hobbits' version of the calendar was not confined the Shire, spreading beyond its borders as far as Bree. The Bree-landers kept the same general structure to the calendar, but preferred their own names for certain months (some of which were also used by the Shire-hobbits of the Eastfarthing). There were other differences between the Shire usage and that of Bree: for example, the old tradition of celebrating the new year at harvest-time survived in Bree long after the Shire-hobbits had moved their new year to Yule.

The Calendar

Years on the Shire Calendar were counted from the date of the foundation of the Shire in III 1601 (that is, year 1 by the Shire-reckoning).1 Thus Shire years can be converted to years of the Third Age by simply adding 1,600 (so, for example, Bilbo Baggins was born in the year 1290 on the Shire Calendar, which translates to the year III 2890). In terms of their count of years, The Shire-hobbits ignored the onset of the Fourth Age that followed the War of the Ring. While most of Middle-earth began a new count from IV 1, the Shire Calendar simply continued from 1421 (the last year of the Third Age on the Shire system).

The Shire Calendar divided the year into twelve months, each a standard thirty days in length, with a series of extra intercalary days to bring the year's length to 365 days. While most calendars in Middle-earth used Elvish names for their months, the Shire-hobbits preferred traditional names from their own ancient past.

There were five intercalary days in total. The first and last days of the year were days of this kind, falling at midwinter and collectively known as the 'Yuledays' (Old Year's Day and New Year's Day). The other three occurred at midsummer: Mid-year's Day itself, and two 'Lithedays' that fell immediately before and after midsummer. To address the need for leap years, every fourth year the Shire Calendar contained an extra day, the Overlithe, immediately after Mid-year's Day.2

Mid-year's Day (and the Overlithe when it occurred) were not considered part of the normal week, but otherwise the days ran through a familiar cycle of seven days. At the time of the War of the Ring these weekdays were Sterday, Sunday, Monday, Trewsday, Hevensday, Mersday and Highday.3 Due to Isengrim's Shire-reform, the calendar was arranged so that each date fell on the same day of the week irrespective of the year. So, for example, 25 Rethe (or March), the date of the Ring's destruction, fell on a Sunday in every single Shire year.


Notes

1

Though we know that they used a form of the Shire Calendar to measure months and days, it's unclear how the Bree-landers chose to number their years. It would seem to make little sense for them to use the colonisation of the Shire as the basis for their count of years (since Bree had been in existence long before the Shire was settled). The people of the Bree-land may nevertheless have chosen to follow the Shire standard simply for convenience, or they may have followed the more widespread system of dating from the beginning of the Age. This latter option would make particular sense given that Bree was more commonly visited by outsiders than the Shire.

2

The calendars of the Dúnedain also managed leap years by inserting an extra day at midsummer, and in this the Shire Calendar was presumably influenced by the earlier King's Reckoning.

3

Though the names given by the Shire-hobbits to their days of the week appear similar to modern English usage, remember that these are modernised, anglicised versions of the originals. In some cases, like Sunday and Monday, their origins were comparable (honouring the Sun and Moon respectively). In other cases the etymologies were entirely different (for instance, Sterday meant 'Star-day', and had no linguistic connection with English 'Saturday'). For more on these day names, see the entries for each individual day.

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