Calendar

The native Anglo-Saxon calendar is not well-preserved by any means, but we have a small amount of information available, of which the vast majority of functional information is through Bede’s De temporum ratione. There have been attempts to reconstruct this calendar; Swain Wodening’s work in 2013 was probably the most famous of the Heathen attempts, while Joseph Beofeld made a new version in 2017.

The calendar was lunisolar and days were reckoned as starting at sunset.1Tacitus, Germania chapter 11 2Pay particular attention to the fact that Old English æfen “evening” actually referred to the day before what we would expect. While Sunnanǣfen is nominally “Sunday evening”, it is actually “Saturday evening” by our standards. We still do this with eve, as in Christmas eve.

Here is a comparison of the Old English (primarily from Bede), the Old High German (normalised from Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni), and the approximate Julian months:

Old English Old High German Julian month
Gēola Ǣrra Gēola “First Yule”, Midwintermōnaþ “Midwinter month” Heilagmōnād “holy month” December
Æfterra Gēola “Second Yule” Wintarmānōd “winter month” January
Solmōnaþ “mud month”3Bede states that this is a month of cakes given to the gods, but sol never means “cake”. Many have tried to claim that the cakes were called mud due to colour and texture, but this is entirely unrealistic to me. The far simpler answer is that Bede conflated two facts by accident and that it was a muddy month that also had cakes given to the gods. Interestingly, this is the same month in which the Romans apparently baked cakes for Fornax, goddess of the oven. Hornung February
*Hredmōnaþ, *Hreþmōnaþ “*Hreda month”, Hlȳda “loud month” Lenzinmānōd “spring month” March
Ēastermōnaþ “Easter month” Ōstarmānōd “Easter month” April
Þrimilcemōnaþ, Þrimilce4-milce may also appear as –meolce “three milkings (month)” Winnemānōd “pasture month” May
Līþa Ǣrra Līþa “First Līþa“, Midsumermōnaþ “Midsummer month”, Sēarmōnaþ “dry month” Brāhmānōd June
 Æfterra Līþa “Second Līþa“, Mǣdmonaþ “meadow month” Hewimānōd “hay month” July
Wēodmōnaþ “weed month” Aranmānōd “harvest month” August
Hāligmōnaþ “holy month”, Hærfestmōnaþ “harvest month” Witumānōd “wood month” September
Winterfylleþ “Winter full moon” Wīndumemānōd “vintage month” October
Blōtmōnaþ “sacrifice month” Herbistmānōd “autumn month” November

There is another month, whose exact calendrical meaning is unknown, called Rugern “rye harvest”, of which –ern is cognate with Old High German aran “harvest” (> Modern High German Ernte “harvest”) and Gothic asans “harvest, summer” and is related to Old English esne “hireling, servant, retainer” and earnian “to earn”. This month probably corresponded to August, just as the above Aranmānōd does.5According to Texas A&M, in the US rye harvests usually begin mid-June to early July and are most active in late July, though with considerable variation. Obviously this is not England, but it gives a good idea.

Other details are available through surviving vocabulary:

Term Proto-Germanic Old English Modern English Old Norse Gothic
Day, 24-hour period *dagaz dæg day dagr dags
*dōg- dōgor dœgr -dōgs (in compounds)
Night *nahts neaht, niht night nátt nahts
Week *wikǭ wicu, wucu week vika wiko
Month *mēnōþs mōnaþ month mánaðr menoþs
Year *jērą gēar year ár jer
Time, period, interval *tīdiz tīd tide tíð
Time, period, hour *tīmô tīma time tími
Period, hour *stundō stund stound, stund stund
Spring *langatīnaz lencten Lent
Summer *sumaraz sumor, sumer summer sumar
Autumn *harbistaz hærfest harvest haustr
Winter *wintruz winter winter vintr, vetr wintrus

The days of the week were calqued from Latin early on, leaving a fairly consistent set of names with the notable exception of Saturday:

Latin Proto-Germanic Old English Modern English Old Norse
diēs Sōlis *Sunnōniz dagaz Sunnandæġ Sunday Sunnudagr
diēs Lunae *Mēniniz dagaz Mōnandæg Monday Mánadagr
diēs Martis *Tīwas dagaz Tīwesdæg Tuesday  Týsdagr, *Tísdagr
diēs Mercuriī *Wōdanas dagaz Wōdnesdæg Wednesday  Óðinsdagr
diēs Iovis *Þunras dagaz Þunresdæg, Þursdæg Thursday  Þórsdagr
diēs Veneris *Frijjōz dagaz Frīgedæg Friday Frjádagr
diēs Saturnī *Laugōz dagaz? Sæternesdæg Saturday Laugardagr

Outside attestations from a millennium ago, we have various cultural references well after conversion.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Tacitus, Germania chapter 11
2. Pay particular attention to the fact that Old English æfen “evening” actually referred to the day before what we would expect. While Sunnanǣfen is nominally “Sunday evening”, it is actually “Saturday evening” by our standards. We still do this with eve, as in Christmas eve.
3. Bede states that this is a month of cakes given to the gods, but sol never means “cake”. Many have tried to claim that the cakes were called mud due to colour and texture, but this is entirely unrealistic to me. The far simpler answer is that Bede conflated two facts by accident and that it was a muddy month that also had cakes given to the gods. Interestingly, this is the same month in which the Romans apparently baked cakes for Fornax, goddess of the oven.
4. -milce may also appear as –meolce
5. According to Texas A&M, in the US rye harvests usually begin mid-June to early July and are most active in late July, though with considerable variation. Obviously this is not England, but it gives a good idea.