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The True, Real, Original Meaning of Christmas

As a child, the meaning of Christmas was obvious - it was all about Santa Claus and the promise of him leaving longed-for presents under the tree.

As a child, the meaning of Christmas was obvious - it was all about Santa Claus and the promise of him leaving longed-for presents under the tree.

I was informed though, in church services, and by my preaching parents (literally preaching, as they were lay preachers at the church), that the 'true' meaning of Christmas was about the birth of the baby Jesus. This was the less inspiring carol that accompanied every Christmas for me - the monotonous drone of Christians telling me about this 'true' meaning.

It just didn't seem as interesting.

Maybe if Christians had adapted their story to include the magical leaving of presents for children, then they wouldn't have left the door (or chimney) open for Santa Claus, who gained popularity with the help of Coca Cola, to squeeze through (down).

In fact, if I'd believed that it was the baby Jesus who'd left me all those presents, manifested as his first (and annually repeated) miracle, I might still believe. Because, impressive though they must have been at the time, I've never benefitted from any of His miracles (and I'm thinking in particular, of course, about that useful turning-water-into-wine thing).

As a teenager I realised that the original meaning of Christmas was some mid-winter mistletoe-heavy pagan celebration. Like many such occasions, and traditions, the Christians nicked it. So it seems only just that it was nicked off them too.

Yes, we nicked Christmas back. First with the Santa Christmas for kids. And the variety of Christmases that we now believe in.

For some, it's the shared goodwill and gift-giving thing that matters (and you can thank Dickens for that kind of Christmas spirit). For others, it's the family get-together that matters. For others, it's the bleary, boozy over-consuming lead-up and day.

But, underneath it all, what is the true meaning of Christmas?

I think it's essentially about distraction. The nightmarish, frantic lead-up; the monotonous ticking-off of present lists; the countdown; the crowds; the TV events; the glittery things you give and take; the family arguments on the day; the detoxing afterwards...

It all (successfully) distracts us from the depressing drop into winter that constitutes November and December.

Faced with the long, dark, cold months ahead, we get frantically busy; we set our sights on something precisely mid-way through the dark winter and we thus succeed in not having to think about the descending gloom.

Christmas is a form of annual panic. The superficial panic of the frantic preparations masks the underlying panic of the long winter, a panic that is probably programmed deep within us from times when our literal survival would be threatened by the cold and scarcity of food.

All those other meanings? They're just distractions then, just trimmings on the tree of Christmas' true meaning - to stop us thinking about what's really happening.

So, get frantic, struggle to get everything done in time, finally sit back to watch the telly, argue with your family, raise of glass of sherry, but don't - whatever you do - think about the relentless dark winter.

Distract yourselves, goddammit, distract yourselves.