The festivals of Middle-earth
part 1, the Mannish reckonings
The author relates the major Mannish festivals and holy days of Middle-earth to our modern calendar. A brief description of each festival is given.
The table below shows the major holy days and festivals of each of the principal Mannish calendars in relation to our modern, Gregorian, Calendar.
The following abbreviations are used: GC, Gregorian calendar; KR, King's Reckoning; StR, Stewards' Reckoning; NR, New Reckoning. Bold numerals indicate the corresponding day in the Gregorian month (non-leap years).
For example, in the Stewards' Reckoning the festival of Lairemerendë, the 'Greenfest', fell upon Lótessë 10, which equates to modern May 1 in non-leap years. For reference, modern and traditional special days are noted, where these fall on or close to the Middle-earth festivals.
The King's Reckoning
Erukyermë ('Prayer to Eru'): Feb 1
Erulaitalë ('Praise of Eru') / loëndë: Jun 21
Eruhantalë ('Thanksgiving to Eru'): Aug 1
Serkerë > Laitairín (Hallowmas): Nov 1
The Serkerë became perverted in the last years of Númenor, when most of the people fell under the seduction of Sauron. After the Fall, it was never celebrated as before. Instead, the day was named anew Laitairín, the Hallowmas. The people observed a silent vigil at the setting of the sun, in remembrance of all who had suffered or been sacrificed in the dark days before the Fall.
The Stewards' Reckoning
Tuilérë: Mar 23
Lairemerendë (the Greenfest): May 1
Yáviérë: Sep 23
The New Reckoning
The NR maintained most of the main festivals in their original alignments relative to the solar year (although they fell on different dates in the new calendar). The equinoctial festivals of tuilérë and yáviérë were dropped, but essentially were replaced by the New Year (March 15-16) and mid-year (September 13-15) festivities.
Hrívendë ('mid-winter'): Dec 20-21
Cormarë ('Ringday'): Sep 12
Brigantia / Imbolc / Candlemas: Feb 1
Beltane: May 1
Spring (vernal) equinox: Mar 23
Midsummer (Lithe): Jun 21
Lughnassadh / Lammas: Aug 1
Autumn equinox: Sep 23
Samhain: Nov 1
It is also a time for divination, and to stay close to the fire, for the spirits walk abroad on this night. The darker aspects of Samhain are continued in a debased form in modern Hallowe'en, whilst the bonfires and fireworks of Guy Fawkes' Night five days later embody the Samhain fires, lit to ward off evil spirits and the approach of winter.
Midwinter / Yule: Dec 21
As the accompanying table shows, the KR and StR festivals were closely aligned to the quarter and cross-quarter days of the solar year.
With the introduction of the NR the spring and autumn observances slipped out of precise alignment with the corresponding equinoxes. Nevertheless, the available evidence points to a strong awareness of, and close relationship to, the natural cycles of the seasons, throughout the period covered by these calendars (some six and a half thousand years). This, of course, is to be expected in what were very much agricultural and maritime communities.
The situation can be compared with that of Dark Age / Medieval Europe, and contrasted with our modern nature-irreverent era. Traditional, primarily pagan (pre-Christian), festivals and holy days also fell at the cross points of the solar or agricultural years. As Christianity became dominant, new holy days were introduced, largely in an attempt to oust the earlier pagan observance.
Thus, as mentioned above, Christmas Day originally fell at the time of the winter solstice, an attempt to subsume the pagan observance of Yule. With time the calendar months slipped out of seasonal alignment, but the date was not adjusted accordingly. For a fuller discussion of the parallels between Christian and pagan holy days see Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition (Nigel Pennick, Aquarian Press, 1989).
The modern 'pagan revival' has seen many of the old observances reinstated (if ever they truly died out): their dates in the main set to preserve original seasonal alignments. It should be noted, however, that any static calender assignment (for example, deciding to mark Beltane on May 1 in all years) will not always fall in step with the seasons.
For example, leap years must be taken into account for dates falling after February 28. It should also be noted that days have not always been marked from midnight to midnight: as described above, many traditional festivals were marked from sunset to sunset.
The implication of all this is that any anyone attempting to understand the festivals of Middle-earth needs as much an appreciation of the seasons and stars as of Middle-earth society, religion and spirituality.