If someone had casually asked me to draw up a list of the people I was most likely to use as sources for my blogging over the coming week there would have been some predictable names. Nowhere in the top ten thousand names would the words ‘Nigella’ or ‘Lawson’ have appeared together. Regular blog readers will know how much I enjoy understanding the connection between phenomena such as the earth’s orbit around the sun and our daily lives. Christmas is such a time and, almost unbelievably, this is where we hand over to Nigella in her Christmas cookbook,
‘Biblical scholars generally tend to believe that Christ’s birth probably fell about six months after Passover, which would make it nearer September than December. However, the Roman Festival of Saturnalia – a time of merry-making, excess and misrule, precursor to the office party and much else besides – fell around the middle of December, and led up to the Sol Invictus – or unconquered sun – festival. Around this time mummers would go about carousing and entertaining people in their homes, which is what has led to our carol-singing now. The idea of thte unconquered sun, or the rebirth of the sun, has been linked by Catholics to the notion of the birth of Christ, and links, too, with the pagan notion, the one I cling to most affectionately, of the winter solstice being about the promise of the return of light in the depth of the dark winter.’
Put another way, it didn’t really matter what name your god went by or whether they existed at all, the sun’s cycle was a very large part of the popular culture of the past couple of thousand years and more. Almost everything we popularly consider ‘Christmassy’ these days can be linked back to the amount of south in the sun. From giving presents, singing carols, celebrating holy births, snow, merriment… it all has its roots in the fact that the earth is tilted by twenty-three and a half degrees from its plane of orbit around the sun, which means that the sun gives more heat and light at certain times of the year and rises and sets in a different place each day.