December – Mid-winter? Well, yes and no…

There are no street-lights in my rural village. By late-afternoon, neighbourhood Christmas trees are the beacons by which we scurry back home with gifts to wrap.

Even on brighter days the sun, far away over the Tropic of Capricorn, only briefly stretches its watery rays across our skies. 16 hours of darkness follow. Yet I love this time of year.

“December in my memory as white as Lapland, although there were no reindeer”.
So recalled the poet Dylan Thomas.

The misty-eyed mythology around white Christmases seemingly extends to the entire month. A look at the stats reveals just how our memories play tricks on us.

Balmy air from the Atlantic can only fend off the bitter Arctic winds for so long

Snowfall is in fact less common in December than it is in March.
Like a giant storage heater, the oceans surrounding us take time to lose all their warmth, providing a lag in the system between the shortest days and the coldest weather.

Although we have reached the astronomical nadir of the year, the weather machine takes longer to reach the depths of mid-winter. Autumn-sown crops make slow and steady progress, nourished by the vestiges of warmth still residing beneath the surface of the soil.

As Yuletide arrives, green fields and muddy tracks would more accurately reflect the average Christmas scene than the snowy Dickensian images we are used to on our festive cards. White Christmases do not occur that often.

Indeed, it’s not unheard of for the earliest snowdrops to show their face before the month is out. Signs of spring already?

Our charts would suggest otherwise. Balmy air from the Atlantic can only fend off the bitter Arctic winds for so long. The battle between these airmasses will be played out daily in our skies over the next few weeks and months. Each year, the balance of power differs, so the meteorologically-minded among us prepare for an exciting ride.

Older readers may recall the record-breaking winter of 1962/3. For much of the UK it was the longest, hardest winter for centuries, but it didn’t show its frozen hand until Boxing Day.

Time to close the curtains, light the fire, raise a glass and dream of winters past.

(Written by John for BBC Countryfile Magazine)