Welcome back World Builders!
I’ll start up by apologising for the text-heavy posts recently. (I know blocks of texts are tedious and boring to read.) My work contract has still been keeping me busy, but I’m hoping to have more free time to jazz up the blog with some visuals soon and plans have been set in motion to get the podcast back up and running, so please indulge my text-based dribble for now c:
Now, on to this fortnight’s talking point. If you couldn’t tell by the title, we’re talking about calendars! You might have overlooked creating a calendar system. Perhaps at this point in your game or narrative because it hadn’t come up. Maybe you’d named a couple of holidays, or a day of the week, but haven’t had a need for a fully fledged system yet. Maybe you’re just using our calendar.
But don’t overlook them! Because calendars are such an everyday idea for us, they make for a great world building tool.
Within our own world’s history, we’ve had several yearly calendars. The three most famous, which are still in use today are the Lunar calendar, the Islamic calendar, and the Gregorian calendar. But there have been other calendars of significance. The Egyptian’s had a calendar, as did the Romans. The Mesopotamians had three calendars throughout the Bronze age. The Inuit and Nisga’a tribes of North America had seasonal calendars.
If you’re working with a setting based in history, then looking at the different calendars that might have been in use during the time may provide you with some organic ways to provide historical context for your plot, of illustrating points of differences between your characters.
If you’re working in a fantasy or speculative setting, then investigating historical calendars can be a fruitful endeavor for inspiring your own, unique system – or systems. In our world, calendars often revolve around religious or culturally significant times, but they also mark different passings of time and keep a record of it. Something which history would be quite hard to keep track of without.
So, what goes into a calendar system? Let’s pick apart some calendars and do some investigating.
Days of the Week
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… we’re all familiar with the English names for the days of the week. We might be familiar with some others too, lundi and jeudi maybe? Or martedi and venerdi? Throughout different languages and time periods, the days of the week have carried with them planetary symbolism. Monday comes from the anglo-saxon mondandaeg, or moon’s day. While in Italy they say, lundi, because Italian’s say luna instead of moon. Despite the difference in languages, the names of the days of the week carry the same meaning across a broad number of Earth’s cultures. Even in the Indian tradition, each name corresponds with the same planet – Ravivār is Sunday and Ravi or रवि means sun.
For most cultures in our world, the names of our days came from the planets and the deities associated with them. When you go about creating your own names, look for themes within your world you can draw on. Your week might not have 7 days, it might only have 5. Or maybe it has 10? Doesn’t matter, find a theme and use it to help your audience establish what a week looks like in your world.
Months are sort of the bread and butter of building a calendar. The names of the Month in the Gregorian calendar came from the Romans. July was named for Julius Ceaser for example, and September and October come from the Latin septem for seven and octo for eight.
But in China, where they use a lunisolar calendar, their Months are simply numbered. So January is yī yuè (一月) or 1st Month, February is èr yuè (二月) and so on. Every other month is 29 days in the Chinese lunisolar calendar. So January is 30 days and February is 29 days. (This is more organised than the Gregorian calendar, where we need a chant to remember how many days in each month!)
If you’re playing it safe and having 12 months or creating a year with more or less months, Our real calendar systems have completely different methods for calculating how many days in a month, so feel free to experiment yourself.
In the Gregorian calendar, a year represents how long it takes our earth to rotate the sun. The Lunar calendar is based on synodic months, or the cycles of the moon. But a year isn’t always so cut and dry.
If you’re working with fantastic, out-there settings like space or planescapes, than making decisions about how long it takes for a year to pass can be important. After all, Jupiter takes almost 12 Earth years to complete an orbit of the sun, and 1 day on Jupiter is equal to 4,332.59 days here on earth.
In the planar setting I created for my friends and me to role-play in, one Earth year is equal to 15 years on another plane.
These kind of time differences are worth considering if your narrative takes you to different far-flung locations in your setting.
In the Western world our years have been counting down from 0 since “Anno Domini” or AD, which was believed to mark the birth of Christ and literally means “Year of the Lord”. Everything before that date was considered BC, or Before Christ and we counted backwards to 0 from that date to get the numbers of years and centuries in Ancient times.
But, in Ancient China the system for recording years was different. Each year that began after a new emperor ascended the throne, was numbered 1 and given a new Era name. This style is intuitive, especially for fantasy settings where a dynasty might have been ruling for a long time.
This kind of system also lends itself to a bit of manipulation, at least it did historically at the start of the Ming Dynasty, when Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor usurped the throne of Zhu Yuwen, the Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di ordered all records of Zhu Yuwen’s reign be dated under the preceding emperor, Hongwu, to establish himself as the legitimate successor after his successful coup in 1402. Effectively erasing the years Jianwen 1-4 and replacing them with Hongwu 32-35.
I hope this post has opened your eyes a little to the possibilities a calendar system can bring to your world. It’s not just about keeping things organised. Months, day and years, and how they’re used in your story and world can help introduce readers to so many bigger world building concepts, from deities to dynasties!
Until next time guys, happy world building!