I do love this time of year. I am not religious at all, mind you. I just like the idea of a celebration at the end of the year where you get to spend time with loved ones, eat lots of rich food, sing along to Mariah Carey and give lots of presents. I'm not so hot on the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus. I prefer to think of the festive period as an extension of an ancient, ritual-filled Pagan festival.
It always makes me cock a skeptical eyebrow when Western religious leaders lament the loss of the "true meaning of Christmas" each year. Long before Christ popularised Jesus sandals, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) on December 25; involving wild partying, gorging on food and drink, the giving of gifts etc. There was Saturnalia in ancient Rome and Yuletide in Northern Europe, both of which are Winter Solstice festivals.
Certainly in this part of the world, there is never a greater need for a hearty celebration than on the shortest day of the year, just as the cold and gloom and overbearing darkness are becoming seriously oppressive. Just imagine what it would have been like before the invention of central heating, fairy lights and bad telly.
I'm not an avowed atheist, but I went to see a secular-humanist Christmas show Sunday night. It was brilliant - Stuart Lee impressed me with his wry delivery - "..when I look at something as complex and intricate and detailed as Professor Dawkins I think, 'Surely that can’t just have happened by chance.’" Jarvis Cocker sang beautifully about fate. Ricky Gervais tried out some (pretty crappy) new material. Robin Ince was charming as the geek in his element running the whole thing. Richard Dawkins did some surprisingly moving readings from Unweaving the Rainbow, and fellow Aussie Tim Minchin ended the night with a searing 9 minute beat poem in which he rips a New Age bimbo to shreds.
Anyway, whatever your beliefs, I implore you all to hold your loved ones close this Festivus - hug them and tell them you love them, hold their hands, ignore their short-comings for one day. Stuff your faces and give thanks for all the good things in your life. Wonder at the beautiful world around you - even in London in the middle of Winter, the bare branches make a beautiful pattern against a moody grey sky; mud squelches deliciously underfoot, and there is a hint of bonfire smoke in the cold air. There are so many tiny, simple, wonderous things to enjoy if you stop and notice your surroundings.
See you in the New Year!
*Pagan sun-god. Winter Solstice was the celebration of his birth - as the seasons change he grows stronger and warmer and brighter. Makes more sense than that whole "virgin birth" story, you have to admit.