Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year

Have you ever wondered why Christmas is celebrated on 25 December, and why the New Year starts on 1 January? Most probably because both events are close to the Winter Solstice on 21 or 22 December. A huge amount of information can be found on the Internet.

Winter Solstice

Because the Earth axis is tilted, the Sun is not always above the equator, but moves between the northern Tropic of Cancer and the southern Tropic of Capricorn.


This causes the seasons and the variability of the day length. When the Sun is above one of the Tropics, he “stands still” before moving back. This are the Solstices (latin: the sun stands still).

In Roman times after the Winter Solstice there was the celebration of the birthday of the Invincible Sun God (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) on 25 December. The day length was increasing and the Sun was growing stronger


The birthday and even the birth year of the historical Jesus are unknown. Probably in spring, 1BC or 4BC, a lot of theories exist. In the beginning it was not considered an important event and In the first centuries of Christianity his birthday was not even celebrated. Only when emperor Constantine (306-337) adopted the Christian religion, it was decided to let the Dies Natalis of Jesus coincide with the birthday of the Sun God on December 25.  Below are two coins from Roman times. Left with the Sun God, right with Christ.

Sol InvictusChrist

One reason for choosing this date may have been to make it easier for the “pagan”  Romans to convert to Christianity. There are other theories, for example that the date was chosen, nine months after the supposed conception in March..:-)

New Year

Choosing a date for the beginning of a new year is completely arbitrary from an astronomical point of view. Therefore  there have been numerous conventions throughout the ages. The original Roman calendar started with the March equinox, had 10 months and ended in December. September, October, November and December still have (latin) 7, 8, 9 and 10 in their names.The winter days between December and March were unnamed. Only later two more months were introduced, January and February. January was named after the god Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward, the other one looking backward. Why the beginning of the year was moved from the equinox to the (winter) solstice? Possibly related to the big year-end party of the Saturnalia, held in December. Quite a wild party!


The Saturnalia were a kind of festival of light, again related to the winter solstice. Gift giving, banqueting caroling, candles. Many elements can be found back in the present Christmas and New Year celebrations…:-;

The Roman calendar has been refined several times, by including leap days, and as Gregorian Calendar is now accepted all over the world. Even in Malaysia, where the three ethnic groups have also their own calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, so the Islamic New Year (1st day of the month Muharram) moves 11-12 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar.

The Hindu and Chinese calendars are lunisolar. The length of a month is determined by the moon. So also here the New Year shifts 11-12 days to an earlier date every year. To keep the New Year in the same interval of the solar year, leap months are introduced every now and then. A more detailed explanation of the Chinese Calendar (and other calendars) can be found on my website

So the Chinese festivals (there are many) have no fixed date on the Gregorian Calendar. In 2014 the Chinese New Year was celebrated on 31 January, in 2015 it will fall on 19 February. Not moving to an earlier date, but to a later one. Because the present year is a leap year, it has an extra month…:-)!

There are two exceptions, where Chinese festivals follow the solar calendar. One is the Cheng Beng festival, the festival of tombs, when Chinese honour their ancestors. It falls always on the 15th day after the Spring equinox, 4 or 5 April.

And the second one? The Winter Solstice! It is called the Dongzhi festival and it is celebrated in the family with prayers for the ancestors. Traditionally it is the time of the year the family prepares Tang Yuan, glutinous rice balls that symbolise reunion and togetherness.

This year we celebrated it with Aric’s family. Everybody helped to prepare the balls which later were put for a few minutes in boiling water.


the balls

On the day of the Winter Solstice (this year 22 December) they are served with sweet syrup

Happy Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year!

Of Bacteria and Men

My recent Tree of Life post described how all living creatures share a common ancestor. Both Homo Sapiens and the E. Coli bacterium in his bowels belong to the same “extended” family!



In that post I promised to write another blog about bacteria and the human body. Here it is..:-)

We humans are multi-cellular organisms consisting of roughly 10 trillion cells. For those not familiar with the naming of big numbers, one trillion = 1000 billion = 1000000 million. And for comparison, the global human population is at the moment ~ 7.3 billion, so there are ~ 1500 times more cells in your body than there are people living on our planet.

Bacteria are single-cell organisms. How many bacteria do we have in and on our body? A staggering 100 trillion, 10 times as many as we have body cells! They can be found on our skin, on our teeth, basically everywhere, but most of them live in our bowels, the so-called gut flora . The size of these bacteria is roughly 10 times smaller than an average human body cell,  their total mass is estimated to be 1-2 % of our body mass. Mind you, that is still a lot, about 1 kg of your body mass is bacterial!.

Probably you will have been taught that bacteria are bad and dangerous. Wash your hands, keep everything clean, etc. And of course there are bacteria that can harm you, even kill you. But most of the bacteria in/on your body are harmless and many are even needed for your survival. You would die without your gut flora!

Here are a few  things your gut flora will do for you:

  • The bacteria will do part of the digestion and help forming your stool
  • They are important to build your immune system and keep it in good order
  • They will fight harmful (pathogen) bacteria
  • They are needed for the production of Vitamin-K
  • Etc, etc

Together, all of the bacteria in the body would be the size of a large liver, and in many ways, scientists say, this microbiome (as the whole community of microorganisms in our body is often called) behaves as another organ in the human body: the Forgotten Organ…:-)

As the importance of our  microbiome has been recognised more and more in the last decades, some scientists nowadays consider us as superorganisms  or see us as an ecosystem!

Or, as a microbiologist recently formulated it, in a rather extreme way: “we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.

A project of the US National Institute of Health, the Human Microbiome Project has been researching the human microbiome. Here is a survey of what they found (click on the picture to see details).The various parts of our body have different bacterial communities.

HMB project

What about a baby, is it born with a gut flora? No, the womb is sterile (although maybe not 100%). But as soon as the baby has left the mother, the bacterial invasion begins and within days the gut flora is there. Essential to build the immune system of the baby!

Interesting detail: the composition of the gut flora is different for Vaginal delivery and Caesarean section delivery. Now it is well known that babies delivered by Caearean section run a higher risk of asthma, allergies and several other health risks, because of the different gut flora. Here is an interesting solution

gut flora

Can you believe it…:-)? It is true.

What about this. The Clostridium difficile bacteria is a common bacteria in soil, but can also live in your bowels. Pathogenic strains of this bacteria can cause diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, especially when the normal gut flora has been damaged by antibiotic treatment. The bacteria itself is resistant against most antibiotics, so it takes over the gut flora. Here is a picture of the bacteria.


Infection with C. Difficile can be life-threatening, it kills approximately 14000 people yearly in the USA.

A promising solution?  Fecal transplantation therapy. Or, in common English: Stool transplant! Take some of the feces of a healthy donor and put it in the colon of the patient. It often works!!

The bacteria in the stool are able to restore the balance in the compromised gut flora of the patient.

Can you believe it…:-)? It is true. Here are some success stories: The Power of Poop

The Kanching Waterfalls

For the third time in a few months, I have visited the Kanching waterfalls, the pleasure park of Kuala Lumpur as it is called on my Waterfalls of Malaysia website.  This time with Edwin, Alice, Chadel and Jerry. We started with breakfast, near FRIM


During weekends Kanching is crowded, but we went on a weekday and it was quiet.  We noticed new signboards, warning for snatch thieves. Apparently human ones, not the ubiquitous monkeys looking for food. Alice and Edwin had fun enacting a snatch theft.

Snatch thieving

There are seven waterfall tiers at Kanching, Here are the first four, not always easy to determine where one fall ends and another one starts…:-). The third fall, Kapor is the most popular one. As it was the rainy season, there was quite a lot of water.

Cemented steps continue until the fourth fall. After that there is a (sometimes steep) trail up the slope. There is work in progress to fence this part off, but  we could still continue to what is actually the most impressive part of Kanching.

Here is a video clip of the tall nr 6 fall/cascade

Fall nr 5 is my favourite. We used it for a short photo session. When I am in pictures, I always try to hide my tummy..haha. Good idea or not? Comments (friendly please) welcome.

Me and my tummy

Actually, after fall nr 7, there are two more remote falls, so we decided to continue. No trail, river trekking, lots of leeches. Especially Alice enjoyed them and they liked her too!  Worried about afternoon rain, we turned back halfway, river trekking is nice but a slow process. Time to take nice nature pictures.

Coming back to fall nr 7, we had time to relax, take a bath and frolic around. I inspected the geocache I have  placed here, more than ten(!) years ago. Still in good condition. I took a “travelbug” from the cache, which I will put back in my Bukit Kiara geocache. Click on the links, if you want to know more about the interesting geocaching game..:-)

Here is the travelbug I took from my geocache. The owner hopes it will come back to Germany. If it is not retrieved before my next trip back to Holland, I will take it there myself.,


Then it was time to go back, scrambling down before the rain came. We had taken a sensible decision, the rain started just when we reached our cars!

Going down

Going down

Of course were were hungry after a long day, so we ended our hike with a well-deserved late lunch in Aman Puri


A very satisfactory trip with nice company!

As there is often confusion about Kanching and the nearby Templer’s Park, here a topo map of the region. In red the trunk road nr 1 from KL to Rawang. I have indicated the location of Kanching and Templer’s in blue. What is very confusing, is that the Kanching falls are located in the Kanching forest, but the name of the river with the 7 waterfalls is Sg Chul Tinggi!. The actual Sg Kanching is located in Templer’s Park. It has also a waterfall but less interesting than the Kanching falls.