the big world  
How to clean a tea pot  Dig for Victory - UK Film from 1940  How to string Onions

Astronomical Guide to Christmas

I like the idea of living history supported in museums and TV programmes at the moment because history is easier to understand when one realises people haven’t changed.

  christmas solstice 

By that I mean that although social patterns and belief systems change constantly people still have similar daily concerns.

In the Ancient Greek port of Empúries in Catalonia there is a sign on the wall of one of the houses that says “beware of the dog” another that simply states “beware of the man”.

The Vindolanda Tablets, named after the Roman camp on Hadrian's Wall were an early form of postcard and have been preserved well enough to read that soldiers regularly wore underpants because of the cold and that journeys on the Roman roads were dreadful.

These are all thing you can still see, hear and talk about today. These are examples of history that are all human and relevant to understanding the past.

It is completely understandable then, that most people will always feel relief when the days start to get longer. Celebrations would be had to get through the times of darkness. The longer days bring the promise of more food and relief from the cold and dark.

There are numerous ways of looking at the Christian religious festival of Christmas as this is the current way we mark the mid winter passage.

The mid winter festival of Stonehenge is probably the best known. On the shortest day the sun would align through the centre of the ring at sunrise.

Another example of Christmas timed celebrations is the Roman festival of Sol Invictus (Sun unconquered) who on the 25th December would drag the sun back by a horse drawn chariot through the skies.

Christmas celebrations are also celebrations that relate to astronomical events.


Christmas is just one of the solar events that mark out mid winter and Christmas on our calanders.

Mid winter solstice.

On the 21st and 22nd of December the daylight hours appear to stop receding. The day and night periods will have very nearly the same duration.

23rd December

By the 23rd of December the sun will set 5 seconds later. The 24th will have a sunset 11 seconds later that the 22nd and the 25th a 17 second difference. By Christmas day the 25th you can measure with tools that the day light is lasting longer in the afternoon.

The Morning Sun

But counter intuitively the sunrise is not rising earlier even though the sun is setting later.
The sunrise on the 21st December in Northern Europe is at 08:41 but by the 25th it will be 08:43 a full 2 minutes later
(link why this happens)

January 1st

Daylight wise there is no great change here the sun sets nearly a minute later than the 21st but the sunrise is now 08.44 a full 3 minutes later than the 21st of December and a minute later than Christmas eve

The first of January was decreed the New Year by Julius Caesar. I believe this to be either a more modern celebration or an older astronomical celebration that has been usurped by a different tradition.

12th Night 6th Jan

The sunrise has remained fairly constant from the 27th of December until the 5th January it rises about 08:44. On the 6th of January
the sun will rise a minute earlier this is the day that the days can really be seen to be getting longer.

This is one of the traditional days in the UK that the Apple orchard Wassail takes place. This is also a good time to bestow luck on your livestock apparently?

In the medieval period Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve or Halloween the night that the “lord of misrule” left and order was restored.

The 6th of January is also now known as the day to take down your Christmas decorations or its bad luck for the future. You could also read this as the days are getting longer and perhaps we should stop having a party and get back to work.

The 6th of January is also known as the beginning of the epiphany in Christian religion.

The 6th of January was the day on the older Julian calendar that was celebrated as Christmas day.

The 17th January does not have a festival that I can find?

but I think that there should be. Astronomically this is about the time when the sunrise really appears to speed up and each sunrise begins a minute earlier each day.

During the last few weeks the crops haven’t grown, the birds have struggled to find food and a lot of nature has just hibernated.

So for those of you who don't like the lack of daylight at this time of year and are fed up about it, take heart.

By the 17th of January the Sun will be rising at least 1 minute earlier each day and the sun will have set a full 27 minutes later than on the 21st.

Christmas is past, the winter is ending and new life and the spring time are coming.