It might come as a surprise to you, but this handsome 50-year-old to your right is the son of a preacher and spent most of his childhood sabbaths at Sunday School in a Cornish chapel learning to recite the books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - see, I can still do it).
There was one aspect of biblical study which didn’t occur to me then, but troubles me now. Why is it that Our Lord was apparently born most definitely on December 25, whereas the anniversary of his death varies so enormously? The net result is that while we can count on our Christmas bank holidays, we’re never too sure where we are with Easter.
Without delving too deeply into ecclesiastical history, most scholars agree that Christ was not born in December at all, but that the date was based on one of the pagan festivals held around this time (I’m particularly drawn to the feast of the Son of Isis, noted for its raucous partying, gluttonous eating, drinking and gift-giving). Hence, early Christians chose to adopt December 25 and leave it at that.
So why couldn’t they have done the same with Easter and thus given us some predictability? This year, Easter Sunday is on April 16, whereas in 2008 it is nearly a whole month earlier on March 23. And it affects everything from how companies report their first quarter’s earnings to how much airlines charge for quick trips away.
So, in case you’ve ever wondered (or just want to impress your mates down the pub), Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which itself may occur from March 21 through to April 18. To make matters worse, the date of the Paschal full moon is not an astronomical event, but is determined by algorithmic tables calculated in the 16th century and may differ from the actual full moon by up to two days. In the era of atomic clocks, this seems either incredibly anachronistic or just plain barmy.
Of course, none of this would matter if we weren’t so starved of public holidays in this country and if they didn’t all come along together, like buses. We’re nearly at the bottom of the European league, with a measly eight public holidays (unless you live in Northern Ireland, where you get 10 - and, pray, where is the sense or fairness in that?) The Italians (now there’s a surprise) come out top, with twice as many (16) as us, followed by Iceland with 15 and Spain with 14. Mind you, none of that would hurt quite so much if we weren’t also bottom of the holiday entitlement league. Laurels here go to the Danes - taking an average of 31 days every year - and the Finns with 30, although neither come close to our own downtrodden teachers, who are grumpily entitled to between 60 and 70 days holiday a year.
Sadly, holiday entitlement is not the sort of thing politicians can get that worked up about. Clearly this is because the Commons calendar still ties in with the agrarian cycle (plenty of time to sow and harvest the crops), which means it sits for only 31 weeks a year - giving MPs 105 working days when they don’t even have to consider turning up at Westminster.
Anyway, enough moaning.
The first time I put finger to keyboard for this august journal was back in 2002. I quickly learned quite how august a few months later when, at a posh charity lunch in Edinburgh, I was approached with “you’re that chap who writes that Grocer column”. To this day, I still can’t work out what the head of one of the biggest family businesses in this trade (it’s not fair to say who) was doing reading a careers column, but I learned that this is one readership you don’t mess with.
However, love you all as I do, I’m afraid that’s it, and I’ll sign out with my 40th Careers File - which at least gives some small significance to January 14, 2006 (apart from the nude wrestling, that is).