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The time is out of joint

January 14, 2014

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.

Happy New Year. Or is still happy Christmas? Looks like we are still in the early 1700s here at Castle Beastie.

Happy New Year. Or is still happy Christmas? Looks like we are still in the early 1700s here at Castle Beastie.



For a fix of Tuesday trees, you might enjoy Winter woods, or a corner of heaven.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2014 5:04 am

    Interesting post. You are certainly right that it only is relevant to the British Isles, we have been buried under epic snow falls for months. Time is out of joint for me as well but for different reasons. We went out to our place on the coast, planted out some of the flower beds only to return home on a day it was -40C. After gardening over Christmas and New Years my brain just can’t compute that it is only the middle of January with 3 to 4 months of snow ahead of us, I keep thinking we must be at the end of March. So odd.

    By the way the castle looks so pretty with a dusting of snow.
    The above link shows how much snow was at the cabin on the weekend. Believe it or not there is even more snow at home. In the yard it is over my three year old’s head.

    • January 15, 2014 11:39 am

      Over here, we have been looking on with dropped jaws at the extreme winter weather that has hit Canada and the U.S. I’d guess that Alberta has had some of the worst of it! Much as I love a bit of snow, I think that half a year of the stuff must get a little wearing, especially when you have little ones who need to get out of the house to let off steam. For us, a couple of feet of snow once in a winter is a big deal.

      Hopefully the next time you get out west, you will find spring buds and flowers awaiting you to reward your hard work over the winter. 🙂

      • January 15, 2014 8:06 pm

        If you can believe it my radishes have already sprouted and the daffs (that haven’t been eaten!) are already two inches high. I even had a pink rose in bloom… January.

  2. January 15, 2014 7:32 am

    This is a very good point, although the historical messing around with calendars is something that I find very confusing! But if we have been deprived of 11 days, I say we need them back, to be called on at short notice in May/June/July whenever a spell of good summer weather is looming! 🙂 January always seems such a long month, and it’s dragging already. I remember the time of starting school again in January, ferrying the girls to lessons and practice sessions in the dark. Later, I used to drive them over the Ogwen Pass to college in Bangor, which admittedly was spectacular. I’m looking forward to the time when it’s light by the time I get up in the morning!

    • January 15, 2014 11:45 am

      It’s terribly confusing, the changes in the calendar, not least because every country adopted the change at different times and even in different centuries. Apparently there are some peoples (the Berbers, for example) who still follow the Julian calendar, and the Coptic church still uses it for liturgical matters, hence Christmas being celebrated on our 6th January in Ethiopia. Then there’s the fact that New Year used to begin on 25th March, which makes working out the date of events in the Middle Ages rather complicated…it all gives me a headache!

      However, I just love your idea of having the eleven days in reserve for sunny spells. Brilliant! You could have a week’s holiday and be gone for nearly three! 🙂

  3. January 15, 2014 10:04 am

    I know what you mean. Having caught a bug from the grandchildren this December/January I have learned that the answer, especially at this time of year (in Glasgow), is “hibernation”. It works for me: stay in, stay warm, drink plenty of fluids (I am fairly broad in my interpretation here). I just hunker down with a pile of books or whatever but am pleased to say I notice the days are starting to get longer now!

    • January 15, 2014 11:48 am

      Yes, Barbara, I am totally with you. The way to get through the start of the year is to hibernate with books, blankets and plenty of hot toddies! Hope it all helps and that you can shake off the bug soon.

  4. January 16, 2014 8:08 am

    Longing for hibernation here, but ploughing through work and now both grandfathers being unwell, at a distance. However, at least the children are no longer at school. It makes me exhausted thinking back to January + school schedules + full time work. My two had music scholarships – not a matter for bragging but rather commiseration, as the evening concerts and rehearsals piled up.
    Roll on the end of January and more light!

    • January 16, 2014 12:14 pm

      It must have been very hard being concert taxi service as well as full time earner, however worthwhile. There’s always something though, isn’t there: the strain of looking after the older generation is no easier. I’m sorry that you find yourselves in that situation.

      We are just starting to notice the mornings getting a teeny bit lighter – how it helps!

  5. January 18, 2014 6:41 pm

    There writes a mediaevalist through and through, DB. 🙂 I can clearly remember what it was like when New Year’s Day wasn’t a Bank Holiday south of the Borders. That really was a dire day to be at work. I’m sure the grey wet weather isn’t helping either. Cold, sunny days would make the return to work so much easier.

    • January 20, 2014 4:19 pm

      Oh dear, you are so right! 🙂 I can’t imagine going back to work on the first of Jan – what a grim thought.

      Indeed, we are badly in need of some bright winter sun.

  6. Liz Davey permalink
    January 20, 2014 6:56 pm

    Funny you should have written this post. I was just discussing this very matter of the change of the calendar and the losing of 11 days at the dinner table last week. I got very confused, though, because I couldn’t work out what date the winter solstice fell on. My next door neighbour is Russian and celebrates Christmas around 6th/7th January as well.

    • January 20, 2014 11:15 pm

      It is indeed confusing, which perhaps is partly why the subject provides endless fuel for discussion and speculation!

  7. Mary K. in Rockport permalink
    January 26, 2014 5:22 pm

    You are right – it’s the same in the USA, totally wrong to do anything but hibernate until maybe mid to late January.

    • February 1, 2014 12:37 am

      I’m guessing you must have had some wild weather too in Rockport this winter, making hibernation extra attractive! Here’s hoping for a fine spring when it comes.

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