Christmas tales 2007: our favourite writers rant, reflect and reminisce

Pledge and pink champagne, By Jeanette Winterson

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

To be alone or not to be alone that is the Christmas question.

This year, sprigs of holly crossed, come Christmas Eve, I shall roar up the fire with my bellows, shout at the cats to lock the cat flap, wind up the radio till my arm falls off, to make sure I have enough juice to get all the way through 90 minutes of "Nine Lessons and Carols", then it's feet on the fender, pink champagne in a bucket, a pile of books by the beaten-up leather armchair, and the goose in the slow oven of the Aga overnight. Oh yes, I am cooking my own goose this year. No family turkey for me.

It's not that I want to cry bah humbug, wear a bed-hat and be visited by spooks for failing to honour Christmas in my heart. I will honour it, but I can't forgo the miracle of 24 hours' peace and quiet not just my peace and quiet but the fact that the shops are shut and the trains don't run, and even the garage isn't serving petrol. Actually, they don't serve petrol any more do they except in India? We serve it to ourselves, they sell it, like the rest of life.

So what a moment, when we can actually stop selling things for a few hours, stop going out to buy things, stop going out at all. For this one day, the whole of Britain will shut up. It's irresistible.

Every year I try and spend Christmas alone, and it never happens. Last year I managed Christmas morning, and went running through the frost and mist and church bells, and stood at last, winded and warm, on a high hill with the fields below me and the smoke rising from the chimneys, and the dots of people at their doors, and a young fox that crossed me, pausing, then tail up, down the hedge-line, red against the blackthorn, his white chest like the page of a book.

I ran home, drained the goose, made the veg, put on a skirt, and although I was glad to see my friends, I was sorry too, because some of me couldn't leave the high hill, and the fox, and the sense of a day that few would see, like a secret. The one present that stays wrapped.

This year I have wrestled a day and a half from the happy duties of godchildren and dear friends, and nothing will part me from it I wouldn't go and have a sherry with Madonna if she asked me.

What I will do on the morning of Christmas Eve is get up early, and clean the house, earning the smug satisfaction that only a mop and bucket can bring (though Pledge has a peculiar cheering power all its own). I shall change my bed and put on the best heavy ironed bed-linen. I shall wash the windows with soapy water and torn up bits of The Independent, even it is raining, sleeting, or snowing.

I am the sort of person who likes rituals, and I make them up for myself to give shape to a time that is increasingly shapeless the baggy saggy loose acrylic knit of shopping, drinking and parties, seems like a waste of Christmas to me. I'll read the Bible stories again, because they are mysterious and beautiful, whether or not you believe, and I'll finish Dickens's A Christmas Carol, in bed on Christmas morning with a mince pie, a cat, and a cup of tea.

Then, in my clean washed striped nightshirt, I'll put on Handel's Messiah and get the first fire going. I'll feed the birds, and go running, and this time, when I get back to the holly wreath on the back door, I'll be free. There is great happiness in solitude.

Jeanette Winterson's latest novel is 'The Stone Gods' (Hamish Hamilton)

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