“ ‘Then what is Durin’s Day?’ asked Elrond.
‘The first day of the dwarves’ New Year,’ said Thorin, ‘is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter.’ “ (The Hobbit, Chapter Three, “A Short Rest”)
Welcome, dear readers, to our end-of-the-year posting. It will be posted on January 1, 2020—which is hardly Durin’s Day.
But when is Durin’s Day?
It seems that that is as much a puzzle for Thorin as it might be for us, as he says:
“ ‘We call it Durin’s Day when the last moon of Auturm and the sun are in the sky together. But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again.’ “
Thorin and Gandalf have consulted Elrond over the map of the Lonely Mountain made by (or for) Thror, Thorin’s grandfather, and Elrond has discovered that the map has more to tell than would first appear.
As, in the light of a crescent moon, Elrond
“held up the map and the white light shone through it. ‘What is this?’ he said. ‘There are moon-letters here, beside the plain runes…’ “
Those briefly-readable lunar runes (highlighted in white on our image), say:
“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks…and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.”
Like the first day of the dwarves’ New Year, the first day of the Western New Year has been a bit of a mystery over the centuries, too.
Ultimately, our calendar comes from the Roman calendar and that calendar, at its beginnings, was already in trouble, and all because of that same moon which illuminates Thror’s map.
Roman tradition said that this calendar had been edited by the founder of Rome, Romulus, here depicted murdering his twin brother, Remus, before introducing
his ten-month lunar calendar. His successor, Numa Pompilius,
attempting to combine a solar with a lunar calendar, added two months, but was forced to add another, shorter, month, every two years so that the seasons and the calendar didn’t drift too far apart. As this still caused difficulties, Julius Caesar, many centuries later,
recently made “Dictator for Life” by the Senate, consulted an Alexandrian astronomer, Sosigenes, and redesigned the calendar with 12 months with a total of 365 ¼ days, an extra day being added every four years to fill out that ¼ day—that is, more or less, a solar year. There are a lot of complications in this which we ourselves would roll our eyes over, so, if you would like more information, here’s the WIKI LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_calendar.
The difficulty with this, as we understand it, is that that ¼ day is fractionally longer than a quarter and that, over many years, the seasons and the calendar still managed to drift apart, so that, by the early 1580s, there was a 10-day gap. This was adjusted by a new calendar, authorized by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, which recalibrated things in such a way that we’re still using that system in 2019.
But what about the first day of the Western New Year?
Originally, Romans, with a ten-month calendar (which is why we the names “Septem-ber, Octo-ber, Novem-ber, and Decem-ber”, even though, now, those names/numbers can no longer be correlated with the modern 12-month variety), marked the beginning of the New Year as late in March, at the time of the vernal equinox. This was one of two days a year when day and night are approximately equal (the other is on the autumnal equinox, which, as the name suggests, is in the fall). In 2020, that will be on March 20th.
Although the Roman Republic had established 1 January as the beginning of the civil year, when their two chief magistrates, the consuls, took office,
that late March date was still being used until, along with his 12-month reform, Caesar permanently moved the beginning of the year to the first day of the extra month named after the god of endings and beginnings, Janus.
This shift also nicely fit in with the season of traditional Roman year-end festivities (which seemed to go on no matter what the calendar might be doing), including the Saturnalia,
and the later addition of the festival of Sol Invictus (the “unconquered sun”), all from mid-to-late December.
This worked until 567AD, when Christian clergy, meeting at the Council of Tours, decreed that 1 January still reeked of paganism and shifted the beginning of the year back to late March—March 25th, in fact, where it remained until Pope Gregory XIII (remember him?) revised the calendar and moved it back to 1 January. Most of the West adopted this new version of the calendar rather speedily, except for Great Britain, which didn’t make the change until 1752. (So, when you see that George Washington, for example, was born on 22 February, 1732, until he was about 20, he must have believed that he had been born on 11 February, 1731.)
But what about Durin’s Day? we asked some time ago.
We know that Thorin seems a bit unsure and that would appear to be true for his creator, as well. The best guess (with the author sort of behind it) would be 19 October, but, if you want to pursue it farther than that, see this LINK: http://thorinoakenshield.net/confusticate-and-bebother-these-dates-the-durins-day-dilemma/ The author does a very good job of, well, trying to deal with something JRRT once wrote in a note at the top of a page of revisions for the projected 1966 edition of The Hobbit, “Hobbit Time table is not very clear”.
In this world, however, in the West, 1 January remains the beginning of the year and we wish you a happy and prosperous one, no matter when/how you celebrate.
With thanks for reading, as always, and, as always
The traditional New Year’s song in the English-speaking world is Robert Burn’s “Auld Lang Syne” (literally, “Old Long Since”) and our favorite version is that of Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818).
Here’s a LINK so that you can hear it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INzME1iKkGE