One of the most interesting features (at my opinion) about elvish culture is the reckoning of Imladris, the way elves count time, seasons, and years.
To begin with, their time is absolutely different from ours. Think about it: if you were immortal, time would be a different notion to you. Elvish year in fact lasts 144 human years! Wow….how are we gonna keep track of it? In less than one year, we’d all be dead! They have a short version of ‘year’ in order to establish a similarity with mortal men calendar. Here are the basics:
Yén = 144 years = the actual elvish year (for mortal men it’s taken as century instead of year)
Loa = 365 days = the shorter version made to observe seasons, it perfectly fits to the solar calendar
Alright…that’s the year, but what about the months? Are they the same? NO! Some may say they are, as Tolkien used Gregorian dates on his books, but that was just a simple convention for lay people. In Middle-Earth there was no September, January or December, so don’t bother celebrating Frodo’s birthday on September,22nd. It doesn’t work that way. Even with the Shire calendar, it doesn’t work that way!
Months for elves are essentially divided by seasons. There are 6 months. Two of them are 72-day. They’re longer months corresponding to the full seasons of summer and winter. The other four months are regular ones with 54 days. Do the math..isn’t it missing 5 days? Where are they? Well, they’re special days, holidays if you will. They’re the 1st day of the year (yestarë), the 3 middle days (enderi) and the last day of the year (mettarë).
Let’s visualize it! It’s always better:
1st day of the year. It doesn’t belong to any month.
“Spring”, 1st month with 54 days
“Summer”, 2nd month with 72 days
“Harvest(autumn)”, 3rd month with 54 days
3 middle days. High holiday, not belonging to any month too.
“Fading(late fall)”, 4th month with 54 days
“Winter”, 5th month with 72 days
“Stirring(pre-spring)”, 6th month with 54 days
the last day of the year. It belongs to no month.
As you may observe, elves are perfectly symmetric. Their numeral system is duodecimal (like the Babylonians who devised the hours), so everything is based on 12. That’s why their week are made of 6 days! Longer months are made of 12 weeks of 6 days = 72 days!
We saw the months, now let’s understand more about the week!
As said above, elvish weeks are made of 6 days. Like our week, each day has a name with a meaning attached to it. Our week days are based mostly on Norse mythology and celebrate their gods (Týr, Freia, Odin), while elvish week days celebrate the nature and the powers behind it. (Yes…Tolkien’s works are full of harmony even in the tiniest details).
So, here they are, the 6-day week:
(elen = star)
(Anar = Sun)
(Isil = Moon)
(Aldu = Two Trees)
(Menel = sky, heaven)
(Vala = the Power)
Why is it so?
In Tolkien universe everything is full of harmony and has some explanation. Here’s the reason of elvish week-days:
Elenya: Elves were born under starlit sky. There were no Sun nor Moon when they came to existence. The first word ever spoken in Arda was: “Ela!” (Behold!), because they looked at the stars and were marveled. Their name, Eldar, means ‘people of the stars’ and of all natural things elves loved stars the most.
Anarya: Sun marks the birth of Men and the end of elves’ bliss. Humankind brought changes and made the world whole different for the elves. They are called children of the Sun. After the destruction of the Two Tress, the last golden fruit who could be saved from Laurelin (the Golden Tree) was put into a vessel in the sky and guided by Arien, Maia of the Sun.
Isilya: Moon was created on the
same day as the Sun and for the same reasons. Before Men, there was no Moon. The night sky was full of Varda Elentári’s stars to delight of the elves, but no Moon was needed. After the destruction of the Two Trees, the last silver flower who could be saved from Teleperion (the Silver Tree) was put into a vessel in the sky and guided by the unsteady (that’s why there are Moon phases) Tilion who chased the Sun.
Aldúya: The Two Trees played a major role on the elvish history. They illuminated the world before the Sun & Moon. Due to them, elves marched from
their awakening place near the lake Cuiviénen towards the light of Valinor. The first of the Two Trees to come into bloom was Telperion with dark green leaves shining forth silver-white light. It was from the shining dew from the Tree that Varda formed the brightest of the stars. The other Tree was Laurelin that came to its full light seven hours after Telperion, and so the Two Trees waxed and waned, silver and golden, throughout the long Years of the Trees.
Menelya: Menel means sky but in Arda, Menel is a proper name and its meaning goes much beyond than sky or heaven. Menel refers to the sublime above, the dominion of the stars and heavenly bodies. It’s the place where no one can go, except the blessed birds and the powerful eagles of Manwë. There are lots of places who honor Menel by its use or name, for instance Meneltarma in Númenor which means Pillar of Heaven
Valanya: The last day of the week and held in special esteem by the elves. Dedicated to all Valar, it may correspond to our Sunday. Valar were the Powers, the “gods” who ruled Arda and everything inside the globe, from winds to sea, from mountains to trees. No surprise, there would be a day dedicated to them.
That’s something I missed when I explained about elvish calendar and it’s so essential! Mainly when you want to synchronize Gregorian calendar with Imladris’. So, we have seen so far that elvish calendar has the same amount of days as ours, 365 days. Surely they’re counted differently, less and longer months, short week, but in the end…it’s just the same year, 365 days. What about leap years? Gregorian leap years are each 4 years (except in 1900 and other years. Read more) and Imladris leap years are each 12 years. But here’s the trick: Gregorian adds 1 day, Imladris adds 3 days. Voilá! The same thing in the end of the 12th year. Of course, after the 4th and 8th year, Imladris calendar gets a little bit ‘late’, but it’s just a couple of days max. No big deal. The 3 extra days are added at the Enderi. Instead of 3 middle-days, in a leap year there are 6 enderi. The last elvish leap year was in 2016 and the next will be in 2028. (According to ANNO DOMINE synchronization)
This part should be dealt in Smart Course page, but numerals are such a basic feature intertwined with calendars, that I couldn’t help it, but to introduce it here as quick as possible, so everyone will be able to understand better how elves count their days. (and all other things too).
To start, we need to analyze our own numeral system. It’s the so famous decimal system. Everything is based on the number 10 and its multiples. Elves are different. They got the duodecimal system (like ancient Babylonians who invented the counting of minutes and hours, which by the way…is based on duodecimal system too). Everything is based on the number 12. That’s the elvish ‘complete’ number equivalent to our 10. It’s something like, counting things by dozens. Below, I present all the numbers in Tengwar:
So, a 12-based numeral system changes everything. When you put together 1+0, in a system like that, you don’t get ten, you get a dozen! (By the way….check closely the number 12 in the chart. Yes…numbers are read from right to the left, opposite direction of the alphabet) 2+0 is not 20, it’s 24. 1+0+0 = 144. That’s something really tough to get used with it (mainly to me, you know…I’m not a guy into numbers). The best tip ever is: start thinking about dozens, always dozens. This will surely help you.
Below, you’ll find a chart with all the numbers used in a calendar page (up to 72). It was designed to help mainly starters who might get confused at reading or writing numbers in Quenya.
ANNO DOMINE Synchronization
Here’s a thing I’ve done some months ago (to be precise, 09/29/10) because I wanted to find out the exact day of the week we were in. I’ve been following the elvish calendar for some years now, but I read more and more about it and I had some doubts if I was really observing it correctly (in sync with Gregorian). Then I researched everything about the matter and came about with the charts you’ll see below.
But what did I do anyway? I took year 1 AD and found there when the yestarë had taken place. And…
In Appendix D Tolkien wrote that the Elves’ New Year falls on the sixth day of Astron. Now we can easily get the corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar – it is March 29.
…so I started there! March,29th,1. From this date on, I could find all the corresponding days of the weeks for all the days for over 20 centuries! I had to pay close attention to the leap years and the small delay which they caused on the yestarë to happen (this will be the main focus on my chart) and I had to observe the huge adjustment made between Julian and Gregorian calendar in 1582. Well….it took me some time to find them all, but now I’m following a much more accurate calendar and you can too!
In this PDF (Thanks again, Ondo) you can see when the elvish year starts from year 1 to 2016 AD
And to make things easier a revolutionary easier way to keep counting with Erutulco below. Click: