Why Do Years Have Names?

As many children of the Second Age ask, "Why do we sometimes call the year by a number, saying 'It is the Year 870?' But other times we call the year by a name, and we say 'It's the Year of the Red Door?'"

The simple answer is that there are two calendars based on two different kinds of year. The first is the regular calendar that is well-known, starting from the Firstmonth of each year and ending on the last day of Twelfthmonth. That year is numbered. Since the Second Age began the year that Queen Serith Ellyn of Vanara formally accepted the throne of that Realm, the years are counted from then forward. And so, this is the 870th year of the Second Age.

The other calendar is that used by the Unknown King of Duinnor to mark his Royal Year. That year ends on the day of the Spring Equinox and the new year begins the following day. On the day of the Equinox, the King is required by tradition (and some say by the law of the gods) to go forth from his palace in the city to the great Temple of Beras on a nearby mountaintop. There, with the monks and Oracle of that place presiding, the King renews his kingship for another year.

As most know, the King has a special servant that serves him and does his bidding, called the Avatar. This servant takes the shape of some thing of the world and floats along beside the King a foot or so from the ground or glides through the streets of the city when it is dispatched on the King's business. It does not speak, and it makes no noise. But whoever sees it is usually filled with fear and awe, since if it comes to your door, you must go away with it. And you may not be seen ever again. So when the people see it floating along through the streets of their city, they fervently hope that it will merely pass them by. Some people have such dread of the Avatar that they refuse to live within Duinnor City, since the Avatar may only go beyond the walls of the city in company of the King. And the King rarely leaves his palace, much less his city.

But each year, the Avatar must accompany the King to the Temple. When the King emerges from the Temple to go back to his palace, the Avatar comes out of the Temple with him in a new shape for the new Royal Year.

Thus, one year it was in the shape of a perfume bottle. Another year it was like fog. Still another year it was in the form of a terrible warlike battering ram. After a while, people began calling the Royal Year after the shape of the Avatar, and the practice continues to this day. That is why this Royal Year is called the Year of the Red Door, as it has been since springtime began and will be until winter ends. Then the Avatar will have a new shape. And the Royal Year will have a new name.

For more about calendars, see The Calendars of the World

Courtesy of The Reader's Companion to the Year of the Red Door
© 2016 by William Timothy Murray


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