Time seems to  be running out as  Christmas approaches : and the nights are closing in. Around December 20 – 23  we will have  the shortest day, and it is called the Winter Solstice.  We do not think about it,but our Christmas ideas are closely linked to the observance of the December solstice. In fact, the christian celebrations in December were originally designed to supplant the pagan festival about the loss of daylight.

Originally, every town used its own ‘local time’ in the days when transport was slower, using horses (or reindeer). But around 1840, fast trains with timetables made the use of standard time essential. By 1855 more than nine out of ten of Britain’s towns (including Consett) changed to Greenwich Mean Time.  But Santa has always used ‘local time’, so how do we know he changed to GMT in 1855?

Christmas Time Problems
Christmas Time Problems by Syd Peck

Maybe  Santa still uses local time today?  In terms of local time, he can arrive 7 minutes before midnight in Lowestoft on the east coast,  or even 22 minutes after midnight in Penzance  on the west coast.  How does he manage In Consett?  Well, Consett  is more or less right in the middle of the island of Britain, so are we ok? Let’s look at the Consett Magazine  headquarters at West Wing Prospect Business Park, for which the exact  latitude is  54.9° N  and longitude is  1.8° W.  This means that in the magazine office, our local time is 8 minutes behind GMT. So we have to wait for Santa an extra 8 minutes.    

Now, what about the disappearance of the daylight, the so-called shortening of the days? Some parts of Britain are much further north, such as the Shetland islands, and they have less than 6 hours of  daylight on the shortest day.  But in the southerly Scilly Isles  they have  over 8 hours of daylight.  It turns out that Consett again happens to be in the middle of the island of Britain  –  so we bask in 7 hours 10 minutes of daylight on the shortest day. Poor Santa and his reindeer have to work too fast up in the Shetlands, and too slow in the Scillies;  but in Consett,  Santa can just work normally, and  has time to eat an occasional mince pie.  And he deserves it !

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