There are a million and one articles out there decrying the shameful slip from that utopian Christian celebration of the past to the decadence of today's Christmas and I am adding my personal two penneth worth. As a young child my family were not overly well off and, though there were presents, they were modest and came in the form of socks, gloves, chocolates or, for us children, perhaps a doll or cuddly toy. What I remember more, with nostalgic fondness, was the whole family coming together, eating a glorified roast dinner and playing silly games into the evening. Now, as an adult, with no young children left in our family, I find the magic of Christmas so distorted that I really can't find it anymore.
To try to understand the festival, I wanted to understand why it came about. It's fairly common knowledge that winter festivals predate Christian teachings, with Pagan cultures in Europe celebrating Yule in order to celebrate the passing of shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice on the 21 December. This was a way for Celtic and Scandinavian groups to celebrate the 'rebirth' of the Sun. In Scandinavia, the fire festival was celebrated with large feasts and multiple toasts, which were drunk to celebrate the fields, the Gods and the fallen. This was about a millennia ago, and the tradition of drinking and eating to celebrate a year survived is still ingrained into our psyches.
Modern Christmas was a product of Victorian industrialisation, with the pushing of goods capitalising on the burgeoning middle class' disposable income. It was Queen Victoria who moved the traditional gift giving from a New Year celebration (as it remains in Latin America) to Christmas time. However, this gift giving was controversial, particularly with religious conservatives such as the Puritans. Now, I am not a religious woman, but I do find it ironic how many of the seven deadly sins are venerated by modern Christmas: avarice and gluttony are openly celebrated, with lust and envy forming an integral part of the festival also. That's four out of seven, not bad going for the most widely celebrated Christian event of the calendar! For some, these excesses are the fun of Christmas. For me, they often detract from it, with the effect that I now dread the displays appearing in stores just as summer passes and the TV adverts beginning to bludgeon us into believing that we really must have the latest iPad, Xbox, plasma TV screen or weirdly sexualised perfume that some Hollywood actor claims to wear. And why do we have to buy enough food to feed the entire passenger list of the Titanic when the stores are only closed for two days!?
The Money Advice Service gives a shocking statistic: one million of us will use a payday loan to cover the cost of Christmas, whilst a third of adults will use credit cards. It's almost a truism these days to talk about the way that this holiday season pushes so many of us further into crippling debt, but the truth is the fact that it's almost a cliché shouldn't make us apathetic: it should alarm us.
I don't wish to preach, but I feel that we should focus less of our attention to giving gifts to our family and friends who, if we're honest, probably have enough money to buy the nice things we're getting them. We should take note of the giving side of Christmas, and if we give gifts surely they should be to those who really can't afford it. In the UK alone, 20,000 children will go hungry over Yuletide: with twice as many adults suffering the same fate. To fight this, the Daily Mirror is trying to organise an effort to help the Trussell Trust's food-banks, and they aren't the only company to do something like this. Christmas should be a time to celebrate what is good in our lives, and commit to giving something to rid the world of the evils around us.
In recent years I have become so fed up with the whole fiasco that I do my best to be abroad during the festive period and if it's to a Muslim country where not one piece of tinsel is to be seen then so much the better. This year, because of work commitments, I have to stay in the UK so I have volunteered my services to a charity who provide a Christmas meal to elderly people who have no family to be with and would otherwise be alone. I am sure I will get to hear some amazing stories, I am hopeful there will be banter and intoxicating belly laughs and I'm not going to mind if we get into some sing-alongs. Above all I hope that I can do my bit to spread a bit of cheer and laughter.
Christmas is fundamentally about finding warmth in the darkest part of the year, when all might otherwise seem bleak. So remember that, give wisely and thank Odin for the time you get to spend with those you love.
Pam Warren's new book - "From Behind the Mask" - Coming 4 March 2014 - The inspiring true story.
Pam's new book 'From Behind the Mask' will be released in March and tells the story of Pam's experience before, during and since the Paddington train crash.