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Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, which John Donne referred to as “the year’s midnight”. In fact, because of something to do with the tilt of the earth, the mornings still get darker for another couple of weeks. On the other hand, the evenings gave been getting lighter for a couple of weeks and will continue to do so. Comfort yourself with that thought when you’re getting out of bed in the dark tomorrow.

The winter solstice is the pagan festival of Yule, which we still celebrate, although we call it Christmas. The midwinter festival was traditionally a celebration of rebirth, as the year reaches its nadir and starts to turn back towards the return of the sun, and we celebrate the birth of the god who will save the world much as the pagans did, although Christmas Day occurs a few days after the winter solstice.

A part of the midwinter festival has traditionally been singing, or wassailing, which survives today as carols. Today we sang carols at the Lido, a motley bunch of us singing along to a scratch band of Vince and Ben on guitar and Doro on violin. To be honest we were doing it a bit early, as wassailing traditionally happened on twelfth night, when the wassailers would go from house to house, singing and demanding that the householders bring out food and drink for them, which is the origin of the demands for figgy pudding in the song We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

We didn’t have any figgy pudding, but we did have a lot of cheese scones and home-made biscuits and cake, not to mention a whole load of mulled wine thoughtfully provided by some kind soul. I can think of worse ways to celebrate Yule, the return of the sun and and the rebirth of another year of swimming.
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Thanks to Nando Farah for the picture