This morning at 6.08am (GMT) was the official mark of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Today is the shortest day for us here in the UK and the longest in Australia, for example.
This is an effect caused the the axial tilt of the Earth and is the true reason that Christmas is celebrated at this time of the year. We bring in trees as an ancient way of keeping nature in our homes and we fill them with lights to keep ourselves cheery during these very long nights.
A very large number of babies will be conceived in the coming three weeks here in the North, leading to the rise in September birthdays that many of us have noticed.
Babies that were born more recently (let’s call them ‘childrens’) will be waiting for Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nicolas, Hanukkah Harry, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, a giant flying Vatican Bell or some other incarnation of what is an historical amalgamation of an old Christian Saint, the Germanic god, Odin and the Bishop of Turkey (although not in the case of the Spanish bell myth). They’ll be hoping that he will bring them presents and in the case of the bishop, that he will not let his four slaves put them in a sack and take them back to Turkey.
Did you know that Santa looks the way he does due to two fairly modern primary influences? One is Clement Clarke Moore, who illustrated Santa in 1881 in his current form for his poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’. The second is Coca Cola, who used (and still use) Santa in advertisements and coloured him red, to match their company motif. Surprisingly this has endured through to today.
Much of our Christmas traditions here in the UK hail from the Victorian era. In the United States they have morphed through a desire to integrate and secularise the season to include other faiths – principally Judaism – which are more popular there. In Greece they won’t be celebrating Christmas until January 7th!
In fact Christmas has been so well transformed into a commercial, secular holiday that many people of other faiths will be celebrating a version of it this year too. I think this is great.
It may be tacky at times, but Christmas is essentially about doing nice things for other people. The commercialism, the cheesy movies and the parties are all about spending time with the people you love and letting them know it.
In light of this, Christmas always makes me think of those who don’t have families to be with or homes to sit warmly in at Christmas. Shelter is a wonderful charity that does a great deal in my area and all over the UK to help prevent homelessness and the help those struggling to get by. Check out the link and find out about Shelter. Donate if you can.
Maybe by doing so, you’ll make next Christmas better for someone who really needs it.
Have a very Merry Christmas whatever you’re doing and believing this year, and a happy new year as well. See you all in 2008!