Now, as those of us in the Northern Hemisphere face the longest night of the year, it is time to do as communities in our cold little island have done for millennia, and celebrate all the small things that make us happy as we begin our journey back from the darkness into the light.
While our distant ancestors celebrated the continual fertility of evergreens and the restorative powers of fire in heat and light, in our house it is the time of year to get out the Christmas tree and put the Fat Controller on top of it. We have three grandsons, you see, and this is becoming our tradition, in the manner that traditions have always slowly blended from past into present. Even Santa is not immune, morphing from the pre-Christian Green Man to the Christian St Nicholas (Santa Claus in Dutch, adopted into American English) and changing his green suit for ecclesiastical red, which eventually became instantly recognisable around the world through the advertising might of Coca-Cola.
Like many people, I make every attempt to ignore the immediate post-Halloween introduction of mince pies and Christmas cards, but now the Solstice has rolled around again, I begin to feel that it is time to engage. First of all, there are those annual deconstructions of Christmas. This year my favourites have included the information that even computers can 'do' Christmas from The Guardian, and The Telegraph's trip into celebration traditions of the past with its article on Yule and evergreens.
And then, last week I attended one of the most heart-warming modern mid-winter rituals of all, one of those 'firsts' that only take place on a few Christmases within one lifetime: my 3 year old grandson's first nativity play. The joy in the hall was palpable- the love and pride of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, coming together with their memories of Christmas past and hopes for Christmas future. As my youngest grandson slept peacefully beside me, the tableau began with a proud announcement from a tiny girl in her very best dress: 'Mary had a baby' and I was reminded once again that Christmas has always been about new life, and new beginnings.
As the nativity unfolded, other perennial scripts began to unfold. For example, one of the Magi had his vision almost totally obscured by a hat malfunction but nevertheless continued resolutely in his role, one of the sheep lost nearly all of his wool and my grandson (being one of the stars who announce the birth of the baby Jesus) began to realise that his costume was entirely obscuring his hands. This became particularly apparent when he had difficulty joining in the Hokey-Cokey, sung by the entire cast assembled in the stable, because it was their favourite song.
A wonderful time was had by all, in a glorious, mash-up Christmas celebration- which is precisely what human beings in Britain have been doing since they arrived here, whether they called their winter festival Yule, Samhain or Christmas. While all of us are located in our life journeys by generation, ethnicity, gender and many other individual differences, what we can share in the mid-winter festival is a celebration of beginnings, the hope in new life and the returning of the light.
The fact that Christmas can be so effectively tracked back into the past and forward into the future seems to me to be quite comforting, illustrating the continuity between generations and the fact that every year, in the tradition of our ancestors, we celebrate the point at which our journey around the sun passes through the darkest period and brings us slowly back into the light, and in doing so, embrace some of our most positive human attributes.
In this respect, one of the highlights for me so far has been the wonderful Bhangra Santas and elves dancing in Southall, reminding me of my South London roots and the 'Two Tone' movement of my youth, celebrating the richness of British diversity in an explosion of music, fun and energy, following a year in which too many events have occurred to create divisions between people.
On a more personal level, I have also been greatly touched by the thoughtfulness of the 200,000 people who have sent Christmas cards to my oldest grandson's friend, Bradley, who is fighting neuroblastoma, and the growing number of downloads of the song made to support the cost of his treatment, Our Superhero.
While it is true that 2016 has not been a good year in many ways, as the Solstice comes around, yet again we inevitably begin our journey back from darkness into light. So let's celebrate all those small things that make us smile, because from today- Here Comes the Sun.Suggest a correction