The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian Calendar, is used by the Coptic Orthodox Church. It is based on the Ancient Egyptian calendar. It is the oldest in history, originated three millennia before Christ. The exact date of its origin is unknown. It is believed that Imhotep, the supreme official of King Djoser C.2670 BC, influenced the construction of the calendar. The Egyptian calendar is simple; it is neither a lunar nor a solar calendar. Months do not correspond to lunar months and years do not correspond to solar years. The Egyptians calculated their years by the stars. They used the star Sirius (which the Egyptians called Sothis). Sothis returns to the same point in the calendar every 1460 years (a period called the Sothic Cycle). A reform of the Ancient Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III (Decree of Canopus, in 238 BC). However, the 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. This reformed calendar is known as the Coptic calendar.
The Coptic Year
The Coptic year is an extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year, retaining subdivisions of 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 keeping track of the agricultural seasons. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 are 30 days each, and an extra month, similar to a leap year, at the end of every year of 5 or 6 days.
The Feast of “Nayrouz” marks the first day of the Coptic year. In Coptic, “Nayrouz” comes from the word “Niarwou” meaning “river.” Its celebration falls on the 1st day of the first month named Tute, which usually coincides with the 11th day of September. Coptic years are counted from AD 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"). To obtain the Coptic year number, subtract 283 from the Julian year number, before the new year.
The Ancient Egyptians named their months after their gods, and chose their names according to the season of the climatic changes for agriculture. They divided the year into 3 main seasons:
1) The season of the flood of the Nile. (Tute to Kiahk)
2) The season of vegetation. (Tubah to Baramoudah)
3) The season of reaping and harvesting. (Bashans to Misrai)
4) The short month is not a season, and is a chance for feasts and festivals.
The Coptic Months