2018

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Today is the last day of 2017. I will probably stay up tonight to “see in” 2018, but I’m not about to follow other traditions, such “first footing“. It’s all superstition anyway.

I think it’s interesting and a little illogical that we celebrate arbitrary dates throughout the year, such as midsummer’s day or May Day, though I understand that the origins of these celebrations. When the Church ruled (in at least the part of the world that I come from) and when times were uncertain and you could be fine one minute and dead of the plague the next, superstition comes naturally.

I can understand the joy that a winter solstice or other celebrations at that time of can bring. We are, at those times, at the lowest point of the year, and things can only go up from there. Strangely the low point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere comes at the top of the calendar. Who arranged that?

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There are no equivalent large celebrations around the time of the summer solstice, at least in the places in the Northern Hemisphere that I have lived. In the middle of the summer, winter is so far away, and I guess that we don’t want to celebrate it. In the Southern Hemisphere the summer solstice occurs round about the time of Christmas and New Year. In either hemisphere we celebrate the summer solstice by getting out in the sun more.

In the spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are some celebrations of May Day, around the time of the Vernal Equinox. At that time of year, we are leaving the darkness of winter and the short days for the longer sunny days of summer, and that is probably worth a celebration. May Day actually falls closer to the middle of the climactic spring than the equinox does.

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Of course any spring festival coincides with the increased fertility of the soil, plants and growing and animals are mating, spring plantings are complete, humans also respond to this. Some spring festivals acknowledge this time of the quickening of the blood in various ways, and sometimes the establishment, notably the Church, tries to suppress or at least put the reins on some of the excesses.

Autumn is the time of harvest and any festivals around the Autumnal Equinox acknowledge this fact. However the tone of such celebrations is likely to be restrained as people buckle down for the chills of winter.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, all this is messed up. The calendar is the same, so the southern Spring Equinox happens in September, around the twenty first of the month. Since most of the traditions have been imported from the Northern Hemisphere, mainly from Europe and particularly the UK, there is no obvious spring celebration to copy.

However, the southern Autumnal Equinox happens in March, and there is a northern celebration at the beginning of May. May Day is celebrated as an almost purely political holiday, with roots in the union movement, and is not, generally celebrated in the same way as May Day is in the Northern Hemisphere.

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When people emigrate from the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from Europe, they often experience homesickness. It can take a lifetime to shake off, but most people eventually relocate their roots. In particular, people from the Northern Hemisphere often find it strange that Christmas falls in the summertime.

People from the Northern Hemisphere expect Christmas to be in the winter. Short days, inclement weather and the perennial question “Will it be a white Christmas?” At one time carollers used to travel from door to door, wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and wearing woollen hats. Father Christmas is well wrapped in thick red and white clothes as he takes orders in the frantic malls before Christmas.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Father Christmas still wears his thick red and white clothes, and sits in a grotto decorated with fake snow and snowflakes, but he is most likely to be near hypothermia as the mercury rises.

There is however a southern version of Father Christmas. This version wears red swimming trunks and usually retains the red hat with the white rim and the white bobble, but may sport sunglasses and wear jandals on his feet. He may even carry a surfboard. He may be lying in a sun lounger shaded by a parasol, and with a non-alcoholic (of course) fruit based drink to hand.

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While Rudolph and his team may feature south of the equator, in Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos, known as “boomers” (at least according to the song recorded by Rolf Harris). The implication is that the traditional reindeer can’t handle the summer heat in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve drifted somewhat from my initial topic, which was the New Year. New year in the Southern Hemisphere is about beach parties, if you are below a certain age. For those above a certain age, New Year means backyard barbecues.

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Beach parties can be riotous, to the point where police intervention is required, but largely they are good natured and convivial gatherings. New Year comes towards the beginner of the seasonal summer, and the celebration doesn’t really equate to any Northern Hemisphere celebration.

The northern Christmas and New Year celebrations are constrained by the short days and the long nights and are celebrated indoors in cosy snugness. In contrast the southern celebrations revel in the long days and short but warm nights and celebrate the outdoors.

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I think that we in the southern hemisphere got the best deal. If Christmas and New Year in the northern hemisphere had, for whatever reason, fallen in the summer, then the southern hemisphere Christmas and New Year would have fallen in the winter, and we would have got the short nights and the bad weather.

We would have had to celebrate Christmas and New Year indoors and during the short winter days. There’s no doubt that it would be enjoyable, the interactions with family and friends, but I’m glad that our main holiday falls in the summer.

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But, whatever, the New Year is in ninety five minutes, at least here in Wellington, so, when it swings around to you, I hope that you have a good and enjoyable New Year. I’ll sit here in my t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet enjoying their freedom from shoes, and wish all you there in the Northern Hemisphere, togged up in your woolies and gloves and hats, a Happy New Year.

Tau Hou hari!

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I forgot!


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Well, I almost forgot to write my weekly post. My excuse is that Monday is a public holiday and this upset my schedule. Of course this is only an excuse.

It did start me thinking about forgetting things. We have probably all forgotten appointments at one time or another, though with cell phones being ubiquitous and possessing calendars, we probably should never do so in the future. Yeah, right!

A page of a calendar.
A page of a calendar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reasons why we forget appointments can be myriad, but I’d suggest that at least some of the appointments that we miss are ones that we would prefer to miss, such dentist appointments. I’d guess that we would be much more likely to remember lunch appointments or some other types of appointments that we would enjoy.

Some people seem to forget things that I am unlikely to forget, such as plane flights. It always amazes me that people can turn up for flights at the last minute. I’m usually in the airport, waiting, well before the official check-in time starts.


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It is probably a consequence of our busy lives that we need calendars and other “aide memoires” like shopping lists. One can imagine that in earlier times to-do lists were shorter and the number things that one needed to carry on a normal life was a lot smaller and our memories were able to cope. But then again, that may be an illusion. Was life really simpler in the past?

If you miss an appointment that affects not only you, but the people with whom you have the appointment. The dentist will be looking at an empty chair, and while he may enjoy the break, it will cost him money. That’s why some service providers like dentists may charge you a fee if you forget an appointment. Some places get the receptionist to send you a text the day before as a reminder.

Honthorst, Gerard van - The Dentist - 1622
Honthorst, Gerard van – The Dentist – 1622 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I’ve suggested above that maybe in simpler times the need for a calendar was less, the need was not non-existent. Farmers, for example, need to know the best time to plant seeds to ensure a good crop.

The Babylonian calendar for example was based on both lunar and solar cycles which would enable the priests to suggest the correct time for planting crops. This calendar has its origins around 2000 BCE according to Wikipedia.

Map showing the Babylonian territory upon Hamm...
Map showing the Babylonian territory upon Hammurabi’s ascension in 1792 BC and upon his death in 1750 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mayan calendar is even older, with roots in the 5th century BCE. The Mayan calendar came to popular attention in 2012, when it was conjectured that the Mayan calendar would end on 21 December 2012, and that this would signal a global catastrophe.

Of course nothing significant happened and the Wikipedia article on the topic explains that the Mayan calendar did not end on that date. Surely very few people seriously thought that it would. Even the ancient Mayans did not predict a calamity at that time, so far as scholars are aware.

Complete Haab cycle. This photo was taken by t...
Complete Haab cycle. This photo was taken by the usuary Theilr and posted in the Flickr site (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forgetting important dates is a recipe for matrimonial disharmony. There seems to be a gender bias here as most males do not worry too much if you miss a birthday, but it seems more important to females. Whether or not this is real gender difference or merely a societal one, I’m not prepared to guess. Whatever the cause, it is best to remember one’s spouse’s birthday. I personally find it very difficult to remember dates other than the usual wedding anniversary, spouse’s birthday and my children’s birthdays.

There is another sort of forgetting though, one that creeps up on one as time passes. Some of that can be attributed to loss of facilities due to age, but memories do seem to fade regardless of ageing. Even in your twenties your recall of events ten years earlier can be faulty, though for some reason some things can be said to stick in your mind.

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...
Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s difficult to work out what we have forgotten and what we have simply had no reason to remember. Something may, for some reason or other, trigger a memory, and we say “Oh, I had forgotten that!” when obviously, we hadn’t.

Equally, memories may be replaced by false memories. For instance, for years I believed that I had a memory of an event at a particular place involving my sister’s pushchair. When I visited the place many years later, it was apparent that the event could not have happened as I remember it. The slope of the path, the flower beds were all wrong.

English: Versailles gardens with a fountain Fr...
English: Versailles gardens with a fountain Fran├žais : Bassin de Latone, jardin de Versailles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems to me that memories can be true, or totally false, and that a memory of events may be completely lost, and this would make the study of memory very difficult and that relying on memory for veracity is impossible.

There are people who claim to have memories of a previous life. I don’t believe such claims, as I don’t believe that there is such a thing as reincarnation. If there were such a thing, one wonders why those who remember their previous lives were always important and powerful people in past lives.

Portrait of Marie-Antoinette of Austria
Portrait of Marie-Antoinette of Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But memory loss definitely gets worse as one gets older. Some unfortunate people suffer so badly from memory loss that they cannot recognise their own families and get lost in places with which they were once familiar. As people live for longer this phenomenon is becoming a big problem.

Of course there is research into both ageing and memory, so this situation will hopefully improve, but at the moment, it doesn’t seem attractive to live to 100+ and lose all one’s faculties.


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Memory is one of the things that makes you you. You can remember many things from your past, and while you can’t completely remember being the person that you were, you can remember some of it. Maybe you can remember what you were feeling at the time, maybe not.

But you believe that the person that you remember was you, in spite of the forgotten things, the things that you remember wrongly, because there is a continuous thread of memory between the person that you remember and you in the here and now.

English: Graphic from the licensing tutorial
English: Graphic from the licensing tutorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet in another sense, that person was not you. His memories only encompass the time up until his now. Your memories of the time from then on are of events that have changed you and your memory of events before that person’s now have also changed, or been lost. How could you be the same person?


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