It’s December 21st, the winter solstice.
KE programmes just run in the summer, so when our students come to the UK, they generally find warm weather (well, reasonably warm), a fair bit of sunshine (well, on and off), and the trees heavy with leaves (that’s always true). Oh, and the sun shines until well after 9 o’clock in the evening – and it’s light again in the morning before the clock strikes 5… (And that again is always true!)
How different it is now, in the middle of winter…
The trees have lost their leaves, and have a sombre, dead look. Nature seems to have gone to sleep: the insects have disappeared, most of the birds are keeping quiet. Where I live, in the countryside, there is often total silence, everything is motionless, and you ask yourself whether life will ever return. The days are very short: in the south, it gets light after 8, and then it’s dark again by 4; while in the north of Scotland, it’s even darker, with the sun not rising before 9, and setting just after 3. Although, of course, you don’t see the sun very often anywhere – maybe just on one or two days a week, if you’re lucky.
On the other hand…
Well, the first thing, I suppose, is that it’s not really that cold. Winters in London, for example, are warmer than they are in New York, Paris or Milan, not to mention Berlin, Beijing or Moscow. When the sun does shine, you’ll see a lot of people out and about without a coat on: for December 25 this year, we’re expecting not a white Christmas, but 10 degrees or more. And then, even when we do get seriously cold spells – fewer and fewer, it has to be said – they don’t usually last for long. If it does snow, it’s a rare, but truly magical treat. Even a sharp frost, with bright sunshine low in the sky, (and this we get at some point every year), can be enchanting, and hard to resist when you’re dressed up well.
Quite often, Britain is hit by winter gales. These are not typhoons or hurricanes, just short periods of very strong winds, often with rain. But after the rain, it’s great to go down to the sea to watch the waves crashing on the shore as you try to stand upright against the howling gale. The winds bring clean, fresh air in from the Atlantic, and, as we say, blow the cobwebs away.
And as for nature being dead… Well, yesterday I saw new-born lambs in a field, one of the first signs of spring. In fact, no sooner do the last leaves fall from the trees than you start to see the spring flowers appearing in the gardens. Look closely, and the birds are quietly getting ready for the next season.
Because the days are so short around the winter solstice, the good thing is that they start to get longer quite quickly. By the end of January, it’s light until 5; a month later, it’s closer to 6. By March, you can feel the difference almost every day.
That said, it has to be admitted that this month, December, really is the darkest, dampest, gloomiest month of the year. As I look back over the last few weeks, it seems to me that if there is a certain variety in the December weather, it’s this: one day is damp and dreary, the next is dreary and damp… and then it’s back to damp and dreary again! Oh, dear…
So why do you think we have our main festival of the year just now? From the start of the month, the shops and the streets, together with many of the houses, are full of festive lights. As people hurry around doing their Christmas shopping, they don’t really seem to notice the dreariness outside. Life indoors is so much more inviting, and we pretty much ignore what’s going on outside – it’s nearly always dark, anyway! And then, of course, we have Christmas itself, when everything shuts down and people celebrate with friends and family. Next, following on just a week later, is the second biggest festival of the year, New Year’s Eve, with more celebration. And after that, we’re in January, the days are getting longer, and somehow a turning point has been reached in the British winter. Summer will soon be on its way back – together, in due course, with the students it brings to Kingdom Education!
Looking forward to the summer? Apply now for our Kingdom Education programmes 2017!