- Coptic calendar
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The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian calendar, is used by the Coptic Orthodox Church and still used in Egypt. This calendar is based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. To avoid the calendar creep of the latter, a reform of the ancient Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III (Decree of Canopus, in 238 BC) which consisted of the intercalation of a sixth epagomenal day every fourth year. However, this reform was opposed by the Egyptian priests, and the idea was not adopted until 25 BC, when the Roman Emperor Augustus formally reformed the calendar of Egypt, keeping it forever synchronized with the newly introduced Julian calendar. To distinguish it from the Ancient Egyptian calendar, which remained in use by some astronomers until medieval times, this reformed calendar is known as the Coptic calendar. Its years and months coincide with those of the Ethiopian calendar but have different numbers and names.
The Coptic year is the extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year, retaining its subdivision into the three seasons, four months each. The three seasons are commemorated by special prayers in the Coptic Liturgy. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and one intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 days in length, except in leap years when the month is 6 days. The year starts on 29 August in the Julian Calendar or on the 30th in the year before (Julian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as the Julian Calendar so that the extra month always has six days in the year before a Julian Leap Year.
The Feast of Neyrouz marks the first day of the Coptic year. Ignorant of the Egyptian language for the most part, the Arabs confused the Egyptian new year's celebrations, which the Egyptians called the feast of Ni-Yarouou (the feast of the rivers), with the Persian feast of Nowruz. The misnomer remains today, and the celebrations of the Egyptian new year on the first day of the month of Thout are known as the Neyrouz. Its celebration falls on the 1st day of the month of Thout, the first month of the Egyptian year, which for 1901 to 2098 usually coincides with 11 September, except before a Gregorian leap year when it is 12 September. Coptic years are counted from 284, the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor, whose reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians, especially in Egypt. Hence, the Coptic year is identified by the abbreviation A.M. (for Anno Martyrum or "Year of the Martyrs"). Note that A.M. abbreviation is also used for unrelated calendar eras (such as the Byzantine and Jewish calendar epochs) which start at the putative creation of the world; it then stands for Anno Mundi.
Every fourth Coptic year is a leap year without exception, as in the Julian calendar, so the above mentioned new year dates apply only between 1900 and 2099 inclusive in the Gregorian Calendar. In the Julian Calendar, the new year is always 29 August, except before a Julian leap year when it is 30 August. Easter is reckoned by the Julian Calendar in the Old Calendarist way.
To obtain the Coptic year number, subtract from the Julian year number either 283 (before the Julian new year) or 284 (after it).
Date of Christmas
Coptic Christmas is observed on the 7th day of January. The 25 December Nativity of Christ was attested very early by Hippolytus of Rome (170–236) in his Commentary on Daniel 4:23: “The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the calends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, 5500 years from Adam.” Another early source is Theophilus Bishop of Caesarea (115-181):"We ought to celebrate the birth-day of our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen." (Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, de orign Festorum Chirstianorum). However, it was not until 367 that December 25th was began to be universally accepted. Before that, the Eastern Church had kept January 6th as the Nativity under the name "Epiphany." John Chrysostom, in a sermon preached in Antioch in 387, relates how the correct date of the Nativity was brought to the East ten years earlier. Dionysius of Alexandria emphatically quoted mystical justifications for this very choice. 25 March was considered to be the anniversary of Creation itself. It was the first day of the year in the medieval Julian calendar and the nominal vernal equinox (it had been the actual equinox at the time when the Julian calendar was originally designed). Considering that Christ was conceived on that date, 25 March was recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation which had to be followed, nine months later, by the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas, on 25 December.
There may have been more practical considerations for choosing 25 December. The choice would help substitute a major Christian holiday for the popular Pagan celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice (Roman Sol Sticia, the three day stasis when the sun would rise consecutively in its southernmost point before heading north, December 21, 22 and 23. The celebrations began a full week prior to the religious observance and the drunken revelers were expectantly sobered and orgies exhausted by the festivals close, prompting the eve or vigil of the 24th/25th as an optimally moral and safe time for the Feast of Christ's Nativity). The religious competition was fierce. In 274, Emperor Aurelian had declared a civil holiday on 25 December (the "Festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun") to celebrate the deity Sol Invictus. Finally, joyous festivals are needed at that time of year, to fight the natural gloom of the season (in the Northern Hemisphere).
Until the 16th century, 25 December coincided with 29 Koiak of the Coptic calendar. However, upon the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, 25 December shifted 10 days earlier in comparison with the Julian and Coptic calendars. Furthermore, the Gregorian calendar drops 3 leap days every 400 years to closely approximate the length of a solar year. As a result, the Coptic Christmas advances a day each time the Gregorian calendar drops a leap day (years 1700, 1800, and 1900). This is the reason why Old-Calendrists (using the Julian and Coptic calendars) presently celebrate Christmas on 7 January, 13 days after the New-Calendrists (using the Gregorian calendar), who celebrate Christmas on 25 December. By 2100, the Coptic Christmas will be on the Gregorian date of 8 January.
Date of Easter
According to Christian tradition, Jesus died at the ninth hour (that is, the canonical hour of nona—3:00 pm) of the first full day of Pesach, when that day fell on a Friday; and arose from the dead at or by the first (canonical) hour of the next Sunday. The day of Pesach (Pascha or Passover, 14 Nisan), is always at the first full moon following the northern vernal equinox. At the First Ecumenical Council, held in 325 at Nicaea, it was decided to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the so-called Paschal Full Moon, as for the Christian church to differentiate itself from their Jewish counterparts.
At the Council of Nicaea, it became one of the duties of the patriarch of Alexandria to determine the dates of the Easter and to announce it to the other Christian churches. This duty fell on this officiate because of the erudition at Alexandria he could draw on. The rules to determine this are complex, but Easter is the first Sunday after a full moon occurring after the northern vernal equinox, which falls on or after 21 March, which was its nominal date at the time of the First Council of Nicaea. Shortly after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, the northern vernal equinox was occurring on the nominal date of 25 March. This was abandoned shortly after Nicaea, but the reason for the observed discrepancy was all but ignored (the actual tropical year is not quite equal to the Julian year of 365¼ days, so the date of the equinox keeps creeping back in the Julian calendar).
- Pi Kogi Enavot (the Little Month)
- An introduction to the Coptic calendar (Gregorian equivalents are valid only between 1900 and 2099)
- The Orthodox Ecclesiastical Calendar
- Ancient Egyptian Calendar and Coptic Calendar
- The Coptic Calendar by Bishoy K. R. Dawood (952KB pdf file – historical development and technical discussion, updated May 14, 2007)
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