I DO HAVE to admit that I not infrequently get a bee in my bonnet about something that ‘the powers that be’ get – in my humble opinion – very deliberately and ignorantly – wrong. At this time of the year I am always reminded of this by the arrival of Christmas and – just before it – of the Winter Solstice on 21st December.
Now, when I were a lad, everyone knew perfectly well that the Winter Solstice marks MIDWINTER, NOT the beginning of Winter just as the Summer Solstice marks MIDSUMMER, NOT the start of Summer. Surely it stands to reason that the shortest day and the longest day are the signs that things are changing for the better.
In days of yore our ancestors depended on knowing that Midwinter had at last come to help them judge whether or not they had enough food to last them and their sheep and cattle until grass was lush enough to put meat on bones and goodness into milk; when at last some vegetables could be harvested to keep starvation at bay. Likewise the arrival of Midsummer was a festival time to celebrate the coming harvest and milder weather (hopefully) after hours of backbreaking work in the fields for the local bigwig ploughing, sowing, reaping and mowing in blistering heat – or whatever.
Similarly the Spring Equinox and the Autumn Equinox mark the middle of Spring and Autumn respectively and were times of celebration, the first to mark relief that all the crops were sown and the second to mark relief that they were all safely gathered in. Our Roman conquerors, who ruled these lands for nigh on four hundred years, got it right.
And yet, the Met Office insists on telling us that these ancient festivals mark the beginning of the respective seasons – how ignorant of our traditions can you get? Even the missionary priests who brought Christianity to these pagan islands in the third and fourth century AD were bright enough to realise they would make converts to their new religion, if they had the sense to recognise the existing festivals and mark them with Christian ones. They even built their churches, for heaven’s sake, on the holy sites long revered by the native people who had worshipped their gods there since time out of mind. (The Romans before them even had the good sense to recognise some of their gods as the same as their own).