One of the things that always puzzled me was how the names of the months in Syria were always different to those in other Arabic countries: Kanoon al Thani; Shbat Adar; Nissan; Ayar; Hzeiran; Tammuz; Ab; Aylul; Tishreen Awwal; Tishreen Thani; and Kanoon Awwal.
What on earth were these names and where did they come from? Like many things we take for granted, it was only until I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery that I came up with some very interesting facts. Firstly, the Syrian calendar is used by most Levantine countries, according to Wikipedia, but the names are also very similar to the Hebrew calendar. The reason they are similar is because of the Babylonians - who sacked Jerusalem and exiled the Jews to Babylon - and it is their calculations which gave the world the twelve month year and horoscopes.
Now the word for month in Babylonian is Arah. So, Shbat could mean the month of Aquarius. Adar is the month of Pisces, Nissan means sanctuary, Arah Aru means month of the bull and that then became Ayar as we know it today. Hzeiran is actually from Arah Simanu - the month of Sin, the Sumerian god of the Moon. Ab is from the Babylonian Abu, so August is the month of the lion. Aylul derives from the Babylonian word for Ishtar, which is Ululu. Finally, Tishreen is from the Babylonian word Tishritum, meaning beginning, and so this was known as the month of beginning.
Now here is where the similarity stops, because Tishreen Thani, means the second Tishreen in Arabic. December and January are called Kanoon Awwal and Kanoon al Thani respectively. So November is called something else in the Babylonion calendar, and Kanoon is not mentioned anywhere. The question arises, where did they come from? So far the idea that the Syrian calendar is based on the Babylonian calendar seems to make sense, and the names largely correspond, but do they? A look at the Persian or Zoroastrian calendars gives no clues.
But if we look a bit further back, we find that the Assyrian calendar does have two Tishreens, and two Kanoons, and it seems that this is where those two words come from. Further, the names appear very similar to the meanings used by the Babylonians, so Shabat means flooding, whereas for the Babylonian calendar it is the month of Aquarius, and water. In Assyrian, Kanoon, first and second, mean the month to conceive and to rest, respectively. But that still doesn't tell me what Kanoon really means.
The answer to that might not be as difficult to find, and the clue is in the name. It is known that Kanoon was named as a month of resting and conception. In the Syrian dialect, one of the words used commonly to tell somebody to calm down is the word kin, so kin shway means calm down a bit. And if I were to hazard a guess, then this ancient Assyrian word is still in use today by us Syrians. This is not too far fetched, as till today, Arabs still refer to the Greeks as Yunani, which in English is spelt as Ionian, and this was the name that the Persians used to describe the Greeks. The Greeks referred to themselves as the people of Hellas, and Hellenes, not Ionians. If this is right, then words from thousands of years ago continue to live in the popular consciousness of Syrians today.
In this way, the mystery of the Syrian calendar becomes clear, and it tells us that this calendar is rooted deeply in who we are and how we fit into the region. This is not some cynical attempt to define some Syrian "race", but rather to help understand what it means to be Syrian and where we come from. I think we have a lot of such nuggets hidden in Syrian culture, clues from different civilizations and times. Why were the original references hidden? I don't know, but this is a bit like finding hidden traces of Arabic and Islamic influence in modern day Spain's culture only Syria, and in the very things that we Syrians have taken for granted all our lives. A fascinating subject, and one which deserves further study.