Wednesday December 26th 2012

The spirit of Christmas

Originally published here for Bea Magazine on 24 December 2012.

Now, you may scoff, but I believe in the magic of this season. And I may be quite old, and have children of my own now, but I honestly do still believe in Father Christmas; though as I’ve got older, he’s transformed from a jolly fat man to the aforementioned spirit, that brings with it a sense of well-being and goodwill, a genuinely transforming… well, something.

To me, Christmas is an important thing, because it gets us through the winter. The promise it holds helps us to bear the dark and damp days of November; the festivities lighten up December, and the gifts we receive – not to mention the leftover sweeties and booze – sustain us through January and February, and revive fond memories of what a lovely time we had…

I rather resent it if I’m made to feel (and I have been) as though, as an atheist, I ought not be quite so gung-ho about it; that, if I’m not completely focusing my festive activity on the birth of Jesus, then I am not really entitled to this celebration, and that by bringing too much alcohol, pie and too many presents and fairy lights into it, I’m not really getting the meaning of Christmas.

The first thing I will say is that I do acknowledge that the birth of Jesus is celebrated at this time of year and don’t mind complying with the trend; I am happy for my daughter (who appears each year in a nativity play at her primary school) to focus on the Christian story at this time of year, along with her peers. I enjoy a crib scene, always choose religiously themed advent calendars, and absolutely love a good carol service. Oh, and to be honest, I’m quite a big fan of Jesus, despite not believing in God; I am very, very down with his instruction to love your fellow man.

But let’s be honest, such winter festivities existed in pagan societies, didn’t they? In the UK, we use the word ‘Yule’ as pretty much interchangeable with ‘Christmas’, but before the word made it over here, in around the year 900, what it pertained to was a midwinter festival, celebrated by Germanic people, and it wasn’t the only winter festival afoot in Europe before the influence of Christianity hit. I’m not saying it’s what I’d want to go back to (I’m happy not to revive the sacrifices, thanks), but I think the preponderance of excuses for seasonal feasting and drinking, even pre-JC, prove that there’s a reason why we do this. We need to cheer ourselves up. Plus, it’s the pagan element that gave us all that holly and ivy and Christmas trees, isn’t it? Where would we be without those?

So, in conclusion, this: I’m not all for the commercialisation of Christmas (especially if it leads to panic buying and a raft of sexist supermarket ads) but I am very, very keen on doing everything I can to lighten the wintry mood. Don’t be mean with yourself; be generous to your family, if you can, and if they’ll appreciate it. You should indulge a bit, enjoy some presents, push the boat out. It’s wet, cold and dark out there. Make things as comfortable as you can, and have some fun.

And Happy Chris… well, happy whichever festival you celebrate. I hope it’s a good one.