The Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) Calendar

The Old English calendar is a notional calendar that I have invented, based upon various known aspects of solar calendars in the past and traditions in England, many of which still survive today. It is not meant to represent any real calendar that might have existed, thus the statements on this page are not meant to be taken as historical fact, but purely as assumptions made by me to construct this calendar concept. This page explains how I have structured the calendar, which I use on a day-to-day basis purely for my own personal interest. It is also not intended to be a proposal for calendar reform.

How it works

The ancient Old English calendar was reputed to be a luni-solar calendar, following the cycles of the moon with an extra month added every few years to keep it in line with the seasons. This calendar was reputed to have its new year on Christmas Eve, but this would not be possible every year if the calendar were luni-solar, due to the lunar year not matching the solar year. There is speculation that the 12 days of Christmas may have been epagomenal days added at the end of the year to compensate for this but this is speculative and would have brought most years up to 366 days in length. which is too long.

The calendar I have devised, however, is a solar one using Old English month names, in the same vein as Tolkien's Shire calendar, which itself is based upon details of a pre-Christian calendar by Bede, in his work De temporum ratione ("The Reckoning of Time") in AD 725. It is purely a solar calendar, with either 365 or 366 days depending on whether the year is common or leap. The year starts at midnight on the longest night of the year, i.e. the midnight nearest the northern winter solstice (in this article this is called the south solstice as it is when the sun reaches its most southerly latitude). This means effectively that if the solstice occurs before noon G.M.T. on 21st December, then that is the first day of the year, but if it occurs after noon G.M.T. then the next day is the first day of the year. Subsequent seasons start on or a day before the first day of each quarter, so the months coincide roughly with the periods of the signs of the zodiac and each quarter with the four seasons.

The following table shows the months with their lengths and their usual start dates in the Gregorian calendar in the present period. These dates can vary by a day or so either side of the given dates due to the different cycles of leap years between the two calendars. Leap years in the calendar depend on the number of days between each winter solstice, and in those years where there are 366 days between these days, an extra day is added to the month of Solmonath, making it 30 days long. Therefore there is no simple arithmetic leap rule in this calendar, the leap years occur as and when they are required, which is usally every four years but sometimes there is a five-year gap.

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Name

Usual starting dates

Days

1
Aeftergiuli
22 December
30
2
Solmonath
21 January
29 {30}
3
Hrethmonath
19 February
30
4
Eostremonath
21 March
31
5
Thrimilchi
21 April
31
6
Aerlitha
22 May
31
7
Aefterlitha
22 June
31
8
Weodmonath
23 July
31
9
Haligmonath
23 August
31
10
Winterfylleth
23 September
30
11
Blotmonath
22 October
30
12
Aergiuli
22 November
30

Note that the months of Aergiuli (Foreyule) and Aeftergiuli (Afteryule) do not mean before and after Yule, but "Early Yule" and "Late Yule". This is because originally there was a "Yule Month", which was split between the early and late parts. The same is true of Aerlitha (Forelithe) and Aefterlitha (Afterlithe).

Epoch

The epoch for the calendar is the year 444 C.E. and the era is called A.S.E. (Anglo-Saxon Era). The years are therefore approximately 444 years behind those of the Gregorian calendar.

Days of the week

The days of the week were named after Norse deities, apart from Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and have the same origins as the names that are still used today. The Old English names for the days of the week were: Sunnandæg, Monandæg, Tiwesdæg, Wodnesdæg, Þunresdæg, Frigedæg, and Sæternesdæg.

Holidays/festivals

The main festive days observed in the calendar are as follows, with typical equivalent dates in the Gregorian calendar:

  • Modraniht (Mothers' Night), 30 Aergiuli (21st December)
  • Yule Day, 1 Aeftergiuli (22nd December)
  • Yuletide, 1 - 12 Aeftergiuli (22nd December - 2nd January)
  • Winter Cross Quarter, 15 Solmonath (3rd February)
  • Ostara, 1 Eostremonath (20th - 21st March)
  • Egg Moon (Movable - first full moon of spring, usually occurs in Eostremonath)
  • Spring Cross Quarter, 16 Thrimilchi (5th May)
  • Litha, 31 Aerlitha - 1 Aefterlitha (21st - 22nd June)
  • Summer Cross Quarter, 16 Weodmonath (6th August)
  • Harvest Moon (Movable - last full moon of summer)
  • Mabon/Harvest Home, 31 Haligmonath (22nd - 23rd September)
  • Autumn Cross Quarter, 16 Blotmonath (6th November)

In popular parlance, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, therefore it could occur in the last half of Haligmonath or the first half of Winterfylleth. In more northern climes, however, harvest would tend to occur earlier than this, and this fits with it being the last full moon before the equinox in my calendar. This means that it will usually fall in the month of Haligmonath, which, interestingly enough, has the alternative name of "Harvestmonth" (Haerfestmonath).

More on leap years

The rule for leaps years is simple - if there are 366 days between one winter solstice and the next, then the year is a leap year. To calculate the date and time of the northern winter solstice I have used the method detailed in Jean Meeus's Astronomical Algorithms, 2nd Ed., Ch. 27, which gives results to an accuracy of within a minute for dates between 1,000 and 3,000 C.E.

Tracking the seasons

Basing a calendar on an astronomical event such as the winter solstice or the vernal equinox requires the ability to predict the future dates of these events, if it is desired to project the calendar into the future. The problem with this is that, due to the way the Earth spins (it has a "wobble" that means that the seasons move in relation to the background constellations but also, and probably more importantly, the apsides, which is the collective name for the perihelion, the closest point of the Earth's orbit to the sun, and the aphelion, the farthest point of the Earth's orbit to the sun, move in relation to the seasons), the seasons are different lengths and these lengths change over time. For example, the perihelion currently occurs in early January, but a few centuries ago it occurred at the time of the northern winter solstice, and in a few thousand years it will move into February and eventually occur around the time of the vernal equinox. This means that northern hemisphere winter is currently the shortest season, because the Earth moves faster in its orbit around perihelion, and it will get shorter until the perihelion reaches early February. Once it reaches the vernal equinox then winter and spring in the northern hemisphere will be equal in length, and summer and autumn will be longer, but also equal in length. Due to these changes, if the calendar is to be kept aligned to the seasons, adjustments will have to be made in the longer term.

As this is a complex subject, I will not go into further detail here, but the links below provide some very interesting reading, and graphs to show the long term trends in the seasons and how calendars can track them.

Calendar for 1575 (2018-19)