The time is out of joint
It is the first full week of the school term, and I am still struggling to remember what kit needs to be packed each day and to which after-school activities and appointments I am meant to be ferrying children. You’d think I’d never seen a diary before, the way I blearily try to make sense of the day’s schedule each morning (if I remember). Why is it so hard to get going in early January? I have a theory. It’s because early January is actually still December. Please, let me explain.
Two points. Firstly, when we think of an ideal Christmas, the one thing we can almost all agree on is that it should have snow. Bing Crosby wasn’t dreaming of a soggy grey Christmas, was he? Yet in an average year – well all right, there is no such thing as an average year any more, but in winters I remember from childhood – we would generally not expect snow in this country until the New Year.
Secondly, we all know that crawling out of bed to commute to work in the icy dark of the first week of January feels like cruel and inhuman punishment. And after all that miserable effort, you get to the office to discover that almost everyone (apart from that annoyingly bouncy guy in Sales) is mentally still under the blankets just like you, and the last thing any of your clients want is to take a call from you to discuss commercial matters because they too are still feeling a bit delicate after Hogmanay, and so What Is The Point of being at work at all?
Well, it’s all the fault of the Gregorian calendar. When Britain’s dominions switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, we jumped over eleven days in September. ‘Give us back our eleven days,’ protested the populace, fearful that this time had literally been docked from the span of their lives. All that the change really signified, of course, was an adjustment in the counting system.
My theory, however, is that our subconscious idea of what the seasons should feel like is still based on the Julian calendar. In other words, we yearn for snow at Christmas because Christmas, under the old system, would fall at the time of year that is now Epiphany (January 6); which is round about when snow does usually hit these shores. And we find it so hard to get going in the first week of January because, in the Julian calendar, we would still be celebrating Christmas and enjoying that feeling of the midwinter pause in the year’s rolling events. Our subconscious tells us that it is deeply unnatural to be making resolutions and taking up jogging and catching trains when the earth itself is in stasis. Only when the ball of the seasons starts to roll onward again after New Year – or in our modern calendar, in mid-January – do we start to feel marginally more alert and ready to wake up for the coming twelvemonth.
Even I can see how unscientific this theory is. It obviously only applies at all to those of us in the British Isles, too. All I can say in my defence is that the more I ponder it each Christmas and New Year, the more it makes sense to me that our (oh all right, my) bodyclock is naturally attuned to the rhythm of the seasons, and that the seasons in this country seem more in sync with the Julian calendar than with the modern one.
Give us back our eleven days.
For a fix of Tuesday trees, you might enjoy Winter woods, or a corner of heaven.