Happy Celtic New Year! The Winter Solstice was Tuesday, 2021-12-20 at 16:59 using Central European Time (CET), where I live in Norway. This was already past sunset, because sunset on that day in Vangshylla was at 14:17. Since, sunrise was at 10:05, this gave us only about four hours of daylight. New Year’s Day should have began for me on Wednesday, 2021-12-21 at 14:18 CET.
For those wanting to translate the time to their time zone, the Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) of the Winter Solstice was 15:59.
The Celtic calendar is not always particularly accurate. It is traditional to celebrate the start of the new year at sunset on the 22nd. I understand some people even use midnight as the starting point, with most of the celebration happening on the 23rd. This means that in 2021, everyone is already starting the year off one day late, according to the sun. Since, I publish weblog posts at 12:00 CET, this still allows me two more hours in the day to celebrate. I hope readers in Arizona, British Columbia, California, Michigan, Ontario, New Hampshire and Washington state will forgive me for my lateness in publishing this post.
While one would like to look back to the ancient Druids for the origins of the Celtic calendar, the source is more recent, Edward Davies (1756 -1831). Davies did not understand the context of the Mabinogion, which was a compilation written in Middle Welsh in the 12th and 13th centuries, but derived from earlier oral traditions, and the other documents he was reading and researching. He did not seem to understand that Gwion/ Gwydion was a mythical trickster/ magician/ hero, or that the Battle of the Trees was a mythological conflict, and not a historical event. He did not realize that he was actually inventing the Celtic calendar!
Davies is described by Robert [von Ranke] Graves (1895 – 1985) as “… a brilliant but hopelessly erratic Welsh scholar of the early nineteenth century, first noted in his Celtic Researches (1809), the battle described by Gwion is not a frivolous battle, or a battle physically fought, but a battle fought intellectually in the heads and with the tongues of the learned. Davies also noted that in all Celtic languages trees means letters; that the Druidic colleges were founded in woods or groves; that a great part of the Druidic mysteries was concerned with twigs of different sorts; and that the most ancient Irish alphabet, the Beth-Luis-Nion ( ‘ Birch – Rowan – Ash ‘ ) takes its name from the first three of a series of trees whose initials form the sequence of its letters. Davies was on the right track and though he soon went astray because, not realizing that the poems were pied, he mistranslated them into what he thought was good sense, his observations help us to restore the text of the passage referring to the hastening green things and trees.” (p. 38, in the 1961 edition)
This Celtic calendar uses 13 trees as symbols for the lunar months, along with an Ogham letter. Ogham was used primarily to write the early and old Irish languages from the 4th to 9th centuries. The year begins on December 23 (12-23), the Day of Creation, the day after the winter solstice. Each month contains 28 days, except the last one (Ruis) which only has 24 days, in order for it to fit into a solar year.
Almost all calendars have inconsistencies. In the Celtic calendar presented, it is the conflation of a lunar calendar onto a solar calendar, as shown with the shortening of Ruis. A lunation is the period of time, averaging 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds, elapsing between two successive new moons. Thus, many lunar calendar have alternating months of 29 and 30 days because of this. A lunar year consisting of 12 months is 354 days and some hours, or about 11 or 12 days shorter than a solar year. A lunar year consisting of 13 months is almost 384 days long. The Islamic calendar is a purer version of a lunar calendar. Here, there is no attempt to conflate the lunar months onto a solar year, so that the lunar months cycle through the solar year, and end up at the same relative position in 33 to 34 lunar-year cycles.
The Gregorian calendar is very similar to the Celtic calendar. It too attempts of conflate lunar months onto a solar calendar.
Below is the calendar, with the name of the month = Celtic letter, a horizontal representation of how it was written, the tree or other plant associated with it, and start and end dates, in month followed by date format. Location: ♥ = trees found on Cliff Cottage property; ☼ = trees found within 1 000 m of Cliff Cottage.
- Biethe ( ᚁ ) = Birch/ Betula species (ssp.) 12-24 to 01-20 ♥
- Luis ( ᚂ ) = Rowan/ Sorbus ssp. 01-21 to 02-17 ♥
- Nion ( ᚅ ) = Ash/ Fraxinus ssp. 02-18 to 03-17 ♥
- Fearn ( ᚃ ) = Alder/ Alnus ssp. 03-18 to 04-14 ♥
- Saille ( ᚄ ) = Willow/ Salix ssp. 04-15 to 05-12 ♥
- Uath ( ᚆ ) = Hawthorn/ Crataegus ssp. 05-13 to 06-09
- Duir ( ᚇ ) = Oak/ Quercus ssp. 06-10 to 07-07 ☼
- Tinne ( ᚈ ) = Holly/ Ilex ssp. 07-08 to 08-04
- Coll ( ᚉ ) = Hazel/ Corylus ssp. 08-05 to 09-01 ☼
- Muin ( ᚋ ) = Vine/ Vitis ssp. 09-02 to 09-29
- Gort ( ᚌ ) = Ivy/ Hedera ssp. 09-30 to 10-27
- Ngetal ( ᚍ ) = Reed/ wetland members of the order Poales 10-28 to 11-24
- Ruis ( ᚏ ) = Elder/ Aegopodium ssp. 11-25 to 12-22 ♥
How much this calendar was used in ancient times is subject to speculation. In modern times, variations of the Celtic calendar were used by the Insular Celts, of which six Celtic languages are extant (in all cases, they can be written and spoken) in two distinct language groups: Brythonic: Breton, Cornish and Welsh; and Goidelic: Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.
These people split years into two halves: the dark half and the light half. La Bealtaine, was the beginning the light half of the year. It is derived from the Old Irish bel taine = bright fire. This was held at the beginning of May. It is often informally translated as Mayday. Samhain was the beginning of the dark half of the year, at about the beginning of November. It is often informally translated as Halloween.
- Quert ( ᚊ ) = Apple/ Malus ssp. = the light half of the year – Bealtaine to Samhain.
- Straif ( ᚎ ) = Blackthorn/ Prunus spinosa = the dark half of the year – Samhain to Bealtaine.
Just as the day was seen as beginning at sunset, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the darkness, at Calan Gaeaf / Samhain. This explanation seems in conflict with that initially proposed, where the year begins with the winter solstice. However, there can be different years for different purposes. For example, a school year typically begins towards the end of summer. The financial year at the beginning of January.
Solstices and Equinoxes.
- Ailm ( ᚐ ) = Scots Pine, Baltic Pine/ Pinus sylvestris = 12-22, the winter solstice at the start of the year. ♥
- Onn ( ᚑ ) = Gorse/ Ulex ssp. = 03-21, the spring equinox
- Ur ( ᚒ ) = Heather/ Calluna ssp. = 06-21, the summer solstice ♥
- Eadha ( ᚓ ) = Aspen/ Populus tremula – 09-21, the autumn equinox ♥
- Ioho ( ᚔ ) = Yew/ Taxus baccata – 12-21, the winter solstice at the end of the year. The shortest day.
A Celtic Flag
Any ethnic group with respect for itself has not just a calendar, but also a flag. Robert Berthelier (? – ?), from Brittany, designed the flag at the top of this post in 1950. Its green field is charged with two yellow interlaced triskelions, a geometric shape showing triple rotational symmetry. One symbolizes the Gaelic countries of Alba = Scotland, Mannin or Mann = Man and Éire = Ireland. The other represents the Brittonic countries of Cymru = Wales, Kernow = Cornwall and Breizh = Brittany. Each of the six nations is therefore symbolized by a branch of a triskelion. The triskelion has been used since about 3 200 BC, during the Neolithic period.
The triskelions are inscribed in a yellow circle. The circle has been used by the pan-Celtic movement as a symbol of unity. Both green and yellow have been used since the start of the Celtic movements as colours, with green representing the sea linking the Celtic countries. In addition, purple is used, as the colour of heather, which has been the official emblem plant of the Celts since 1901-08-23, at the Celtic congress in Dublin.
The pan-Celtic movement started indirectly with the work of George Buchanan = Seòras Bochanan (1506 – 1582). He theorized that if the Gauls were Celtae (as described in Roman sources) then so were Britons. He concluded that the Britons and Irish Gaels once spoke one Celtic language which later diverged. The Breton scholar Paul-Yves Pezron (1639 – 1706) furthered this work in Antiquité de la Nation et de la langue celtes autrement appelez Gaulois (1703), as did the Welsh scholar Edward Lhuyd (1660 – 1709) in Archaeologia Britannica: An Account of the Languages, Histories and Customs of the Original Inhabitants of Great Britain (1707).
The pan-Celtic movement was almost mainstream from 1838 until 1939, but then went into decline. The Celtic League, an accredited non-government organization (NGO) was founded in 1961, and has since then become the prominent face of political pan-Celticism.
This post was written under the assumption that there can never be enough calendars, so that people have yet another excuse for missing appointments, as in … “Oh, I thought you gave me that date according to the [select calendar of choice, or just one randomly] calendar! This Celtic calendar is undoubtedly impractical to use on a daily basis especially in this digital age, but I am attracted to it because of the trees. Impractical? Yes, because the use of a calendar depends on a community of users agreeing on a date system. If nothing else, one can also use the Celtic calender to (select one) impress/ depress/ oppress friends, or to increase one’s weirdness coefficient. Normal people in North America and Europe (and many other parts of the world) will continue to use the Gregorian calendar.