A crack pipe at Christmas, by Sebastian Horsley

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy
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The Independent Culture

They say Christmas is for the kids and considering just how ghastly the whole thing is and just how much I loathe kids, I would tend to agree.

I must have inherited my festive feelings from Father. Father was not what you would call a religious man. He believed in nothing. It was only sheer indolence that stopped him from being a nihilist. "Easter is cancelled this year," was his annual joke. "They've found the body." Christmas was treated much the same: "Xmas? What's that? A bloody skin disease."

My childhood days were the happiest of my life which is only a reflection of the misery I have endured since. I grew up in a house riddled with standards of living. High Hall could have accommodated an entire family of Catholics. It was a soaring, rambling red-brick mansion with a maze of rooms to get lost in. At the heart of it all was the great balconied entrance hall. It was here that the sequoia-sized Christmas tree was every year planted, festooned with tinsel and piled with gifts. It was here that my parents and their coterie annually assembled to turn away the local carol-singers, to drink themselves stupid and collapse insentient instead. Yes, every luxury was lavished on me at Christmas: atheism, alcoholism and insanity.

This year will be my 45th Christmas. But how many since childhood can I actually remember? Only two. The first, I spent in Amsterdam alone I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning in the arms of someone I loved. I checked into the Grand Hotel. When the day dawned, I rose in solitary splendour and prepared myself to dazzle the prettily frost-dusted world. The streets were abandoned. The ice glistened on the canals. Down a side street, two lovers were leaning together and laughing. Away in a backyard a chained dog was yapping. Sparrows scuffled for dropped crumbs on a bridge. Solitude moaned across the city like fog horns over the sea.

But the Salvation Army was open. The true spirit of Christmas lies in people being helped by people other than me, of course. I joined the small congregation and sang. The service was touching. Men fear loneliness because it opens a glimpse into life's emptiness. But every taut sense thrills when you are alone on a day like this. Every footstep becomes philosophical. Every decision takes on a romantic cast.

I spent the afternoon chained in the arms of a whore. The brothel is a true home to the spiritual. You go there to pray. Stripped of your finery, you step into the holy of holies. You offer yourself up, your beating soul laid bare. On your knees, you discover that virtue and sin can exist in everything. This is the holy prostitution of the human spirit.

The other Christmas which I can remember was spent in company. There was no snow on the streets. But that didn't matter. I had made the preparations. And I was dreaming of a brown Christmas that year. Our presents came gift-wrapped in Cellophane. I and my friend proceeded happily to unwrap them: a sparkling mountain of extremely dangerous drugs.

Our living-room looked like a police narcotics laboratory. We spent the day roasting heroin on an open fire.

Like all creatures with a habit we did nothing. And then we did it again and we looked great not doing it. We shared our day. We slobbered sentimentally. A storm as turbulent as the traditional Christmas argument may have been brewing about us. We may have been utterly at sea. But we were jolly in our lifeboat. We pulled on another Christmas crack pipe together. The cold turkey only came later.

At Christmas we meet ourselves as we really are. That's why it's so hard to bear for the depressed. The day glows like a fire through dimpled cottage windows in an unforgiving season. But for those who can only peep through the curtains, for those who will never be invited in, it only opens even wider that empty gulf of yearning between other people's happiness and your own cold despair.

What about those on the inside? What about those who descend into the bunker of the family? It shouldn't take Christmas for us to recognise that Santa Claus definitely had the right idea. Only visit people once a year and make sure, while you are at it, that you don't actually meet them.

But aren't we forgetting the true meaning of this day: a joyful celebration of the birth of Jesus? Isn't it strange how the whole world observes Christ's birthday while absolutely nobody observes his beliefs.

Jesus was a great and radical philosopher. Here was a truly autonomous mind; here was someone who was prepared to do his own thinking, no matter what the price. A Jewish thinker enrolling in the school of the Greek cynics, he drew on traditions of outspokenness, shamelessness and unconventionality. He spoke of anarchy, anti-materialism and identification with the poor.

His message, quite simply, was that family and personal property must go. Only then could we have peace on earth and goodwill to all men. So we celebrate Christ's birthday by gathering our families together and stockpiling mountains of possessions to wage war on one another over TV schedules and who will clear up.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? No one made more trouble than this baby. The ass-like cult of Christianity that stands around his manger is the antithesis of the man. Christ was an anti-Christ. He was a true radical.

So do celebrate Christmas, my dears: that season when we remind each other of the birth, 2007 years ago, of a Jewish revolutionary by giving tacky commodities to the children of people we dislike.

Christ came to save us from sin. You might as well make his birth meaningful by committing them. Happy Kiss My Ass.

Sebastian Horsley's memoir, 'Dandy in the Underworld', is published by Sceptre