Advent Firesiders

Ecology (2006)

Jean Bodin was a 16th Century French philosopher who first articulated the idea that people are profoundly changed by the topography and climate in which they live; it was an idea developed by Montesquieu some two Centuries later when it became popular. This is not a simple idea but we can see its main outline if we compare Northern and Southern European people: the former are supposed to be dour because of the climate and the latter cheerful; and, looking from a slightly different angle, compare the mountain-based Swiss with the Mediterranean Spaniards (although what Bodin might have said about lakeside Swiss is not clear!).

The thought that struck me when I woke up on Advent Sunday with the wind lashing rain against the windows, was whether people in the same geographical location change when their climate changes; and, at an even more micro level, will our attitude to, and practices in, Advent change because the prevailing weather has shifted from Northerly to westerly patterns?

So much of what we think about Advent is tied up with frost and snow. From gloves to hot chestnuts, from mulled wine to placid candle flame, we think of the freezing calm, bells over the snowy fields, lights in windows seen at a distance through the frosty night.

Thinking of Elton John's song title, candles don't do very well in the wind. We are less tranquil walking with our heads down into a gale-blown drizzle than when we walk upright on a frosty night. We are almost upon it before we can see a light in the window and by then we are powering towards the front door. And, as we sit inside with a book, how different do we feel with the wind and rain lashing, how much more reluctant to venture out to a little party or to a Carol service than we would if only a thick coat were required?

Of course the weather we are now experiencing in Advent accords much more closely with that likely to have been experienced by Mary and Joseph at the birth of Jesus in March; there would certainly have been the tail end of the Eastern Mediterranean rains and perhaps some equinoctial winds. Snow was strictly the preserve of the Lebanon in the middle of Winter. The snow image comes much more from the Northern European tradition of St. Nicholas and Good King Wenceslaus, given commercial expression by Father Christmas in the late 1920s in North America.

It seems to me that there are three questions we might want to think about:

I find it is slightly more difficult now than it used to be to settle into my Advent mould for what is my favourite season of the year. It takes more effort; like a cat, I don't like wind. I like the calm. But, to be honest, if I try just a little harder, with the mental equivalent of the draught excluder at the door and curtains over the slightly loose window frame, I can get my candle to burn evenly.