Halloween in Wales

As I sit here munching candy corn (which my son at one point declared ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate–though he can’t have any because he’s allergic to corn), I’m thinking about the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mystery, The Fallen Princess, which takes place at Halloween.  Except that during the Middle Ages, it was called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, the day before All Saint’s Day, and it was less about candy and more about a belief in actual spirits. All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, has its roots in an older, pagan tradition, called Nos Calan Gaeaf , Welsh for Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning ‘Summer’s End’.  This is the most well-known Halloween tradition in Wales.   http://www.controverscial.com/Samhain.htm  The Welsh translation, interestingly, is ‘the first of winter’. From the National Museum of Wales:  “A pagan holiday dating back to the Iron Age Celts, Samhain was Read more…

The Summer Solstice

June 21, 2019 is the summer solstice this year, celebrated at Stonehenge and across the globe, for the longest day of the year.  “Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.”  http://www.chiff.com/a/summer-solstice.htm Within Welsh mythology, there is very little discussion of the solstices or what holidays were celebrated within the celtic/druid year.  This is not the case of Stonehenge, which archaeologists and historians have studied extensively. “When one stands in the middle of Stonehenge and looks through the entrance of the avenue on the morning of the summer solstice, for example, the Sun will rise above the Heel Stone, which is set on the avenue. If one stands in the entrance and looks into Read more…

Christmas and the Winter Solstice

8 December 21st is the winter solstice in 2018. The image is of Stonehenge at the Winter Solstice in 2007. I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of those people have no idea why they’re there … Cultures throughout the world and throughout history have celebrated the winter solstice, carefully calculating it’s date and time for sunrise and sunset, and aligning standing stones, worship sites, and burials in coordination with the sky.  Wikipedia has an excellent catalog of these events:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice “The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees Read more…

Happy (Roman) New Year!

In the Roman calendar before Caesar, a year consisted of 12 months, for a total of 355 days plus an intercalary month between February and March. For the Romans, the ideal intercalary cycle consisted of ordinary years of 355 days alternating with intercalary years (377 and 378 days long). On this system, the average Roman year would have had 366¼ days over four years, giving it an average drift of one day per year. Later, it was refined so that for 8 years out of 24, there were only three intercalary years, each of 377 days. This refinement averages the length of the year to 365¼ days over 24 years. In practice, intercalations did not occur as they should, according to the whims of the priest in power at the time. According to Wikipedia:  If managed correctly this system allowed the Read more…

Population in Wales

The population estimate for Wales in the early Middle Ages, at the Norman Conquest in 1066, is 150,000. This is squarely in the ‘medieval warming period’ which began around 950 AD, in which Wales experienced a warmer climate than between the 13th and 19th centuries. This site indicates that the population doubled by 1350 to 300,000, but then was cut by 1/3 with the Black Death. It didn’t reach that total again until the 16th century. As of 2008, the population of Wales was roughly 3 million, creeping slowly up from 2.8 million in 1991.  Cardiff, the capital, is by far the biggest city, with slightly fewer than 300,000 people.   http://www.citypopulation.de/UK-Wales.html.  In the Middle Ages, Cardiff’s population was between 1500 and 2000 people–and was one of the few, and certainly one of the largest–towns in Wales.  http://www.localhistories.org/Cardiff.html This population is spread over Read more…

The Names for the Days of the Week

*updated for today because my 7-year old son was asking about ‘Thursday’ 🙂 People have named the days of the week since ancient times. We tend to take them for granted, even the bizarre spelling of ‘Wednesday’. The Greeks had a seven day week associated with heavenly bodies. Vettius Valens, an astrologer writing around 170 CE in his Anthologiarum, gave their order as: Sun, Moon, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronos. Following the Greeks, the Romans named the days according to their gods (modified, of course, from the Greeks), and then spread them throughout the world as they conquered Europe. The Roman days were: Lunae, Martis, Mercurii, Jovis, Veneris, Saturni, and Solis. From this come the Spanish (for example), Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Jueves, Viernes, Sabado, and Domingo (which is the only one that doesn’t fit–see below). In English, the Roman Read more…

Medieval Days of the week 1100-1500 AD

I just discoverd a web page (http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/cal/medcal.shtml) where some hearty soul has calculated the dates/days of the week from 1100-1500 AD. Thus, for the book I’m writing now, I discovered that 11 December 1282 was a Friday. It was also the 3rd day before the Ides, which was a Roman way of figuring the days. The Roman calendar was originally based on the first three phases of the moon, with days counted backwards from lunar phases. The new moon was the day of the Kalends, the moon’s first quarter was the day of the Nones, and the Ides fell on the day of the full moon.  (Thus, Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March, or March 15) December 11th was the Feast day St. Damasus, who commissioned the translation of the Bible from Greek to Latin in 366 AD. Read more…