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?
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 !