‘Tis the yeares midnight, says John Donne of S. Lucies Day, but he was a bit off in his calculations – next Saturday, 21st December, is the Yeares Midnight, or the littlest day, as someone I know overheard it called in the supermarket.
It is not a coincidence that the Christmas period, if not Christmas itself, straddles the winter solstice; the shortest day of the year may be depressing, but it is also a turning point, an apt moment to try to remember what the next spring will be like. It is, moreover, a natural punctuation point in the year, where you withdraw into a mini-hibernation for two or three days, battening down the hatches.
We do not have many students in the school at this time of year, a slack and dwindling handful, no more. But that does not mean that useful work cannot be done – like the bears in the film, students seem to keep their brains at a higher temperature during the winter. There is something conducive about short days and leaden skies, and perhaps the hope of spring, to concentrated work.