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The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-Reckoning [Hardcover]

by Bonnie Blackburn, Leofranc Holford-Strevens
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1999 0192142313 978-0192142313 0
What are the halcyon days? On what date do the dog days begin? What is Hansel Monday? How do Chinese, Muslim, Mesoamerican, Jewish, and Babylonian calendars differ from Christian calendars? The answers to these and hundreds of other intriguing questions about the way humans have marked and measured time over the millennia can be found in The Oxford Companion to the Year.
The desire to set aside certain periods of time to mark their significance is a transhistorical, transcultural phenomena. Virtually all cultures have marked special days or periods: the feast day of a saint, the celebration of a historical event, the turning of a season, a period of fasting, the birthday of an important historical figure. Around these days a rich body of traditions, beliefs, and superstitions have grown up, many of them only half-remembered today. Now, for the first time, Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens combine this body of knowledge with a wide-ranging survey of calendars across cultures in an authoritative and engaging one-volume reference work. The first section of The Oxford Companion to the Year is a day-by-day survey of the calendar year, revealing the history, literature, legend, and lore associated with each season, month, and day. The second part provides a broader study of time-reckoning: historical and modern calendars, religious and civil, are explained, with handy tables for the conversion of dates between various systems and a helpful index to facilitate speedy reference.
The Oxford Companion to the Year is a unique and uniquely delightful reference source, an indispensable aid for all historians and antiquarians, and a rich mine of information and inspiration for browsers.

Editorial Reviews Review

The Oxford Companion to the Year is one of those splendid volumes that should have a permanent place in every personal reference library, next to a well-thumbed Brewer's.

The main body of the book gives a huge amount of historical and folkloric information on every day of the year (including, yes, February 30, which has happened three times); the days of the week, months and seasons; and the major feast days and festivals in a wide variety of different cultures. This is the section that most readers will find the most fascinating; its 658 pages provide endless browsing.

The second part concentrates on the making of calendars over the centuries: how our own complex calendar evolved with its irregular month lengths and its rules for when leap years occur, plus details of the calendars of many other cultures--Chinese, Hindu, Muslim, and many more--all trying to find a regular system that can cope with the fact that the roughly 29-and-one-half-day lunar month and the roughly 365-and-one-quarter-day solar year simply can't be meshed.

Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens must be congratulated on the huge amount of work this book must have taken, and on such splendid results. --David V. Barrett,

From Library Journal

Blackburn (Music, Oxford Univ.) and Holford-Strevens (Aulus Gellius) have produced an interesting reference work that can be seen as a modern version of the medieval Book of Days. Recognizing the significance that the recording of time has had for almost all known cultures, they set out to explain the origins of calendar construction, taking care to examine the significance of each day of the year. The book is divided into two parts. "Part I: Calendar Customs" is a day-by-day guide to the year as organized by the Western calendar. Here, the authors explicate the peculiar attributes each day of the year has acquired. "Part II: Calendars and Chronology" is an in-depth study of how time has been organized over the ages. The authors explain more than 18 calendar systems from Anglo-Saxon to Zoroastrian and also include tables for converting dates from one calendar system to another. This work should appeal to browsers and researchers alike and would be a useful resource for academic as well as public libraries. Recommended for both.
-Robert James Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 937 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192142313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192142313
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #924,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute treasure chest! January 1, 2000
By A Customer
More than just a scholarly reference, this mind-bogglingly comprehensive book is masterfully written and offers something for everyone. From the historical significance and traditions of each day of the year to the calendars and time-reckoning systems used all over the world throughout history, the Oxford Companion to the Year is chock-full of obscure bits of history, poems, quotations, and illustrations. Absolutely fascinating reading--a must-have for the new millennium!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most thorough calender reference available April 11, 2003
This 937 page reference work of calendar customs and time-reckoning is a modern day version of Robert Chambers's "Book of Days" (1864), and is now surely THE definitive reference work on the subject. For every day of the year (including February 30, which has been observed three times in past calendars, once in Sweden and twice in the Soviet Union), there is a listing of the date (e.g., 25 Abril), the Roman date (e.g., a.d. VII Kalendas Maias), a list of Holidays and Anniversaries (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga: ANZAC Day) or Holy Days (e.g., Mark the Evangelist) or perhaps something from Ancient Rome (e.g., "On this day was held the ceremony for keeping rust off crops, the Robigalia,"). Moreover, there are usually one or two paragraphs given to explain the origins of various holidays or as biographical background. Sometimes poems or literary excerpts are inserted to further enliven the entry. Additionally, a generous amount of humor and bonhomie are sprinkled throughout the text.
Other calendar customs such as the moveable feasts of the western church year, days of the week, Red-Letter days, Dog Days, terms at Oxford or Cambridge, Handsel Monday, Thanksgiving, or the Lord Mayor's Show each have their own entries and explanations. Part II follows, with investigation into calendars and chronology. Here the international scope of the book receives greater exposure, with discussion of the Roman Calendar, Chinese Calendar, Egyptian Calendar, Greek Calendar, Hindu Calendar, Jewish Calendar, Muslim Calendar, Anglo-Saxon Calendar, or Celtic Calendar being some of the many discussed.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great almanac of important days and events June 22, 2005
This work is the ultimate reference tool for the calendar. It is divided into two parts. In the first part on Calendar Customs we have a rich but not exhaustive chronology of the days of the year (from pages 1-544) recording historic events which occurred on specific dates as well as notable holidays. This is followed by material covering the seasons, months, days, Western moveable feasts, Orthodox moveable feasts and miscellaneous holidays that were not incorporated in the main chronology, e.g Handsel Monday.
The second part of the work deals with Calendars and Chronology. This section consists of several important world calendars (such as the Hindu, Jewish, Zoroastian and even the French Republican, etc. - yet certain noteworthy calendars like that of the Hopi Indians are absent). There is also information pertaining to the date of Easter, appendices, a glossary, bibliography as well as an index.
There is a great deal of information contained in this volume. However, the authors' main speciality is classics. Whilst reasonable coverage of folk customs is provided, neither of these prestigious authors are folklorists. This is evident from the lack of certain material. For instance, in the analysis of the days of the week (pp. 571-582), while after each day there are a few phrases like Fig Sunday and Mothering Sunday, these phrases could well have been increased. For example, even though there is a reference to Simnel cakes (once brought to one's mother on Mothering Sunday) there is no reference here to Simnel Sunday. Likewise there is no mention of Sugar Cup Sunday, Spanish Sunday or Shaking Sunday (all synonyms of Palm Sunday - the etymologies of which would have made interesting details).
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3.0 out of 5 stars Oxford companion to the year. January 11, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this to be just okay. After reading the Dance of Time I thought this would be even more comprehensive and fun to read. that was not the case. It has a lot of facts which is its only redeeming factor. Not a book you would curl up in front of the fire to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, and mind boggling September 16, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an exhaustive review of the CHristian calendar systems and contais biref explanations of many others. Though written as a refrence book, this book is quite engaging and included folklore, superstitions, and literary references. When I pick it up to look something up I usually get lost in it.

It brings home the fact that the calendar we have now is the result of a long evolution.
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