Any cricket fan who has watched a test match from Old Trafford will have heard the commentators talking at length about the significance of the Pennine hills on the game. So the saying goes, if you can see the Pennines, it’s going to rain and if you can’t see them, it’s already raining.
At this time of year, there is a parallel for me when I look out of my kitchen window. If I can see the garden fence it is getting dark and if I can’t see it, that means it’s dark already. As I write this column, it is 10am and it’s already gloomy. It may be just past breakfast time but in around five-and-a-half hours dusk will be descending for another day.
This is why I am looking forward to an annual festival which takes place in just over a week’s time. No, it’s not the Christian one which dare not speak its name but, rather, December 21 — the shortest day of the year, whose passing always comes as a huge relief for me.
There are lots of people out there who claim to have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To be honest, I’m not even sure whether I am one of them. I do get a little morose at this time of year but then I’m none too cheerful in high summer either. All that I do know is that after December 21, the days are getting longer again and that gives me hope that winter will at some point come to an end.
And, yes, I do know that the long nights have an upside for those who observe the letter of Shabbat. They get to come home early on Friday afternoon for an extended weekend and then just after tea-time on a Saturday, can go out to eat or to the cinema. I also realise that things could be far worse.
I remember watching a programme about the Canadian Inuit community living in a small town, north of the Arctic Circle. They don’t see the sun for several weeks in midwinter. In fact, if they converted to Judaism they would have to cope with the fact that Shabbat comes in on a Friday night in December and does not go out until some time in the middle of January.
There are many of us who are frustrated that the clocks go back in the autumn, depriving us of afternoon light. The only argument I have ever heard for this is that it is tricky for Scottish farmers to milk their cows in the mornings if is still dark. I have the answer. If you happen to be a Scottish farmer (there must be one or two who read the JC), then just put back your own watch in the autumn and allow the rest of us a little more light in the evening — then I won’t to write any more of these grumpy columns.
Anyway, in just over a week’s time, I will be holding my own winter solstice ceremony. It won’t involve dancing around in front of Stonehenge or pretending to be a druid. I shall be standing outside the kitchen door with a small glass of something medicinal, watching the sun descend on the shortest day as I listen to the joyous refrain from my children.
“Dad, can you shut the door, it’s freezing in here!”