December 2022

I was born in December some 57 years ago, on this very day — December 3 — in fact. If I had to pick a favorite month, it would probably be this one. In Thailand, it is a month of holidays — National Day on the 5th, Constitution Day on the 10th, and three days off at New Year’s. It is also the real start of High Season in Phuket with the expected increase in tourists clogging the roads, sidewalks and beaches. The weather tends to improve a bit after the long period of monsoonal rains (which, actually haven’t stopped yet this year) with more or less bearable temperatures before the scorchers that are January and February.

What I like the most about December is that it is an ending of sorts, a wrap-up of tasks for one year, and the prospect of having a much better year ahead — even if the previous eleven months were good. From my standpoint, we have not had a truly good year — free of heartache or mishaps — for quite some time. Twenty-twenty was a true downer for a number of reasons, principally the pandemic, while 2021 was more of the same — plenty of work lost as we coped with continuing lockdowns and downturns of business. This year, despite the repercussions of the War in Ukraine and a number of family members and friends who passed away, had a more than a few highlights and hopes for a brighter future abound.

Since this is my birthday weekend and leading into a Monday holiday, I took three days off from work. My girlfriend is set to return later to Phuket this evening following four months away and I am looking forward to spending some quality time together.

Over the past few days, I began rehearsing students for the school’s Christmas show. I work at a temple school, teaching five levels of kindergarten (the youngest students are just two years old!). They want each of the three higher levels (oldest students are six years old) to sing a different Christmas song at the event — despite the fact that most of them can barely tell me “Good Morning” in English or respond to “What is your name?” yet. K1 will sing a song called “Hello Reindeer, Goodbye Snowman” while K2 is taking on “Jingle Bells” with K3 wrapping-up with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. The K2 and K3 kids made good progress in the initial sessions but I have not seen K1 all week as they were sent home on Monday due to yet another outbreak.

One of my duties at Morning Assembly is to present a Word of the Day to the student body. This Thursday, my chosen word was “December” and I spent a little time on Wikipedia preparing my short spiel. I had never known the origin of the word: December got its name from the Latin word decem (meaning ten) because it was originally the tenth month of the year in the calendar of Romulus circa 750 BC which began in March. The winter days following December were not included as part of any month. Later, the months of January and February were created out of the monthless period and added to the beginning of the calendar, but December retained its name.

December contains the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day with the fewest daylight hours, and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the day with the most daylight hours (excluding polar regions in both cases). December in the Northern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent to June in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa. In the Northern hemisphere, the beginning of the astronomical winter is traditionally 21 December or the date of the solstice. As far as astrology is concerned, the zodiac signs for the month are Sagittarius (until December 21) and Capricorn (December 22 onwards).

The birth flower for December is the narcissus which is also commonly known as the daffodil. It has conspicuous flowers with six petal-like tepals surmounted by a cup- or trumpet-shaped corona. The flowers are generally white and yellow (also orange or pink in garden varieties), with either uniform or contrasting colored tepals and corona. The exact origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic) and the myth of the youth of that name who fell in love with his own reflection. The English word “daffodil” appears to be derived from “asphodel”, with which it was commonly compared. The daffodil is the national flower of Wales and the symbol of cancer charities in many countries.

There are several birthstones for December but the one I like is turquoise which featured in a lot of jewelry and other items I used to see while living in New Mexico. This is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminium. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gemstone and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. Like most other opaque gems, turquoise has been devalued by the introduction of treatments, imitations and synthetics into the market. The robin’s egg blue or sky blue color of the Persian turquoise mined near the modern city of Nishapur in Iran has been used as a guiding reference for evaluating turquoise quality.

In the Christian tradition, December is the Month of the Advent of Christ, containing the holiday of Christmas on the 25th (as big a celebration in predominately Buddhist Thailand as in the U.S.). Most of the so-called “national month” designations in the United States are related to the Yuletide with December being National Egg Nog Month, National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, National Fruit Cake Month, and National Pear Month. Internationally, it is referred to as No Gender December, announced by the United States-based grassroots group Play Unlimited in 2014 to raise awareness to the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people’s sex or gender. This is in order to avoid discrimination arising from the impression that there are social roles for which one gender is more suited than another. The disparity in gender equality throughout history has had a significant impact on many aspects of society, including marketing, toys, education and parenting techniques. In order to increase gender neutrality in recent years, there has been a societal emphasis on utilizing inclusive language and advocating for equality.

As far as my birthday — December 3 — is concerned, it is the 337th day of the year (338th during leap years) with 28 days remaining in the rest of the year. On this date in 1775, the Alfred becomes the first vessel to fly the Grand Union Flag, the precursor to the Stars and Stripes. The flag was hoisted by John Paul Jones. In 1818, Illinois became the 21st state of the United States and in 1959, the current flag of Singapore was adopted. One tragedy that occurred on December 3 happened in Cincinnati in 1979 when 11 fans are suffocated in a crush for seats on the concourse outside Riverfront Coliseum before a concert by The Who.

I share my birthday with many notable people including Gilbert Stuart (born in 1755), widely considered one of America’s foremost portraitists. One could build a formidable collection of stamps just by collecting those bearing art created by Stuart (who appeared on a stamp himself in 1940). Civil War Union general and later New Jersey governor George B. McClellan was born on December 3 in 1826 while the date in 1857 saw the birth of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, who wrote under the name of Joseph Conrad; Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim are two of my favorite books. Other December 3 birthdays include those of singer Ozzy Osbourne (1948), actress Heather Menzies (1949) who played Louisa von Trapp in The Sound of Music — released in 1965 and my mother’s favorite film, actresses Darryl Hannah and Julianne Moore (both in 1960), as well as actor Brendan Fraser in 1968. One personage born on my exact birthdate (in 1965) is East German Olympic gold medal figure skater Katarina Witt.

In Cuba, National Doctors’ Day is celebrated as a holiday on December 3 to commemorate the birthday of Carlos Juan Finlay, a Cuban physician and scientist recognized as a pioneer in yellow fever research. He was the first to theorize, in 1881, that a mosquito was a carrier, now known as a disease vector, of the organism causing yellow fever: a mosquito that bites a victim of the disease could subsequently bite and thereby infect a healthy person. A year later Finlay identified a mosquito of the genus Aedes as the organism transmitting yellow fever. His theory was followed by the recommendation to control the mosquito population as a way to control the spread of the sickness.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an international observance promoted by the United Nations on December 3 since 1992. It has been observed with varying degrees of success around the planet. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. It was originally called “International Day of Disabled Persons” until 2007. Each year the day focuses on a different issue. The theme for 2022 is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world”.

Philatelically, most countries have finished issuing their stamps for the year by late October or November but a few do release stamps during the month. These include Thailand which always has a stamp appear on December 5. This is the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great and, during his lifetime, was celebrated as Thai Father’s Day. That holiday was switched to July 28 upon the ascension to the crown of the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn and December 5 is now known as National Day with a patriotic design usually incorporating the red, white and blue of the national flag. Elsewhere, there will be a smattering of Christmas and Lunar New Year stamps released and a variety of topics from places like Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

Late in the month, I start to think of goals for the next year but any “solid” resolutions tend to be forgotten rather quickly. But that idea of an opportunity to improve oneself in the upcoming twelve months is the drive that keeps me going during the hot, hot days of the latter part of the month.

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