I've been boring people all day about the Winter Solstice. It's like this, you see: the winter solstice falls on the 21st of December, the day on which the sun is at the furthest point from the North Pole and is the Northern Hemisphere's shortest day.
Except that isn't quite true.
You see, it takes the Earth 365.25 days to orbit the sun. That's why we have a leap year every fourth year, to bring the calendar back into sync. This means that, on the December before the leap year, the Solstice is actually about 6 hours later, pushing it into the 22nd December.
Fascinating, no? Best read the article in the Guardian where I learned that in the first place, eh?
Speaking of the Winter Solstice, I've been seeing massive posters around Nottingham featuring a picture of people all dressed up for a party. The caption? "No matter how you dress it up, Christ comes first at Christmas". I've seen similar things on the billboards outside churches too.
I suppose it's not all that surprising really, but why do these people feel so threatened by Christmas meaning different things to different people? It's not as though the idea of having a festival at this time of year is a Christian invention, is it? The Romans celebrated Saturnalia around the 17th December with feasting and gift-giving and the Winter Solstice itself has been observed and celebrated since neolithic times as a period representing rebirth and renewal. Christianity just tagged onto an existing party, trees and all. You think that Jesus was really born on 25th December? Good grief. Wake up! Shepherds don't watch their flocks by night in midwinter, even in the Middle East. They just moved the damn date of their party so it matched everyone else's, so let's not get too precious about how people choose to mark the midwinter now, eh?
Christians claiming squatting rights over this time of year is about as ridiculous as a soft drinks manufacturer claiming that a set of adverts produced since the 1930s somehow gives them a right to say that the red and white imagery of Santa Claus is down to them. The cartoons of Thomas Nast from 1863 depicting a bearded, plump Santa in red and white furs have no relevance, obviously, not to mention the red episcopal robes of the original Saint Nick: Nikolaos, the bishop of Myra in the Fourth Century. Nah. It's all about Coca Cola. Holidays are coming.
Why argue about it at all? Isn't the best thing about this time of year the fact that people are a bit nicer to each other? Can't we at least all do that, whether we attend midnight mass or not?
With that in mind, and given that I'm off to France tomorrow for the festivities - my mother-in-law is an excellent cook convinced that I'm not eating properly, and my father-in-law keeps an excellent cellar... it'll be hell - here's my traditional gesture to thank you all for sticking with me over the last twelve months.
Hard on the heels of the news that the average life-expectancy of people living on the streets is 30 years shorter than the average, on behalf of everyone here, I've made a £50 donation to Shelter, the homeless charity. It's quite mild at the moment, but I'd still rather be snoozing on the sofa in front of a fire than out on the streets, that's for sure.
Season's Greetings to you all. Here's to 2012. War is over if you want it.
See you on the other side.