This article is partly in response to a very well written article from Iduna related to the calculating Durin’s Day on the “Heirs of Durin site” (Thank you again for that Iduna), and in response to many similar questions about this dwarven holiday I’ve received over the past months.
Quite a few that have emailed me have wondered how this day is really calculated and I’ll try to do my best to explain in this article what my view on that is.
Firstly, though a well-thought-out and sound theory, I can’t say I fully agree with Iduna’s calculation of Durin’s Day, let me try to explain why.
“The first day of the dwarves’ New Year is, as all should know, the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter. We still call it Durin’s Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. “
This means that for the dwarves their New Year is on the first day of the last moon of Autumn. Now this indeed does not make it into a “Durin’s Day”, as Iduna has pointed out as well. It would only be called a Durin’s Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun can be seen in the sky together.
As Iduna also correctly pointed out, a new moon cannot be seen together with the sun. In fact it could only be seen with the sun in the event of a solar eclipse (when a new moon passes before the sun). When we look for more details in “The Hobbit”, we can clearly see that this however is not what Tolkien meant.
In fact when we look closely to the details given to us in the Hobbit all becomes much clearer I find …
[The Hobbit – On the Doorstep – Page 243] “As the sun turned West there was a gleam of yellow upon its far roof, as if the light caught the last pale leaves. Soon he saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there pale and faint was a thin new moon above the rim of the Earth”
What does this tell us about this Durin’s Day: a) the sun was setting, at the point of having gone below the horizon b) a thin pale new moon could be seen faintly – this means that it was in fact not a “new” moon (as those can only be seen in the event of a solar eclipse) but was in fact a moon on the first day of a waxing crescent (a thin new moon). With the above description in mind we can in fact pinpoint exactly at what time this would have happened – being on the evening of the second day after the new moon.
This being the very moment the Old thrush was hinting at: “At that very moment he heard a sharp crack”… “It had caught a snail and was knocking it on the stone. Crack! Crack!”
Now the most important thing we must not overlook when we wish to pinpoint Durin’s Day exactly is something clearly mentioned in Thorin’s line at the start of this article: “… on the threshold of Winter”.
Assuming that the seasons start/end at the same time they do in our current reckoning could potentially be a great mistake. Unfortunately, as the Red Book of Westmarch tells us, „the seasons usually named … had no exact definitions, and quellë (or lasselanta) was also used for the latter part of autumn and the beginning of winter” (TC), otherwise known as yávië and hrívë, respectively. It may seem reasonable to guess that the calendar of Erebor may not have been vastly different from that of nearby Dale, for anything else would have been an inconvenient complication in the on-going commerce.
And we know that in Dale the last month of the year was celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season. The Men of Dale called it by a name similar to Hobbitish Winterfilth, signifying „the filling or completion of the year before Winter.” (TC) Winterfilth of the Shire Calendar corresponds more or less to the 10th month in ours, October (cf. Winterfylleth of the heathen Anglo-Saxons, recorded by the Venerable Bede). Therefore we may predict that the Dwarvish New Year occurred in late October, after Winterfilth, and that Thorin therefore said quellë, not hrívë which (in the Shire) began around Yuletide.
Tolkien himself established the New Moon of June 2941 on the 26th and that of October on the 19th. This would fit perfectly with our idea that “on the threshold of Winter” is not the winter in our current reckoning (otherwise this date would be in December not October). In addition further information in The Hobbit confirms this assumption – as Bilbo arrived in Lake-town on September 22nd and about a month later sat before the doorstep of the Lonely Mountain on Durin’s Day (giving us an exact match with our date October 19th, established by Tolkien)
The above theory would place this year’s date of the Dwarven New Year on October 5th 2013 (the last new moon on the threshold of winter). Seeing that Tolkien considered the waxing crescent (a thin new moon) as still being a new moon, we must add our 1,5/ 2 days to this calculation.
This means we clearly have a difference between Durin’s Day and the Dwarven New Year (of almost 2 full days) . We’ve established that the Dwarven New year is on October 5th, so this means that Durin’s Day this year is on October 7th… if we would be able to see the first thin slice of the waxing crescent moon together with the sun.