Arabella Weir: Mistletoe and Christian rhyme. Not round here

The very idea of enjoying yourself was a sin against the church
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The Independent Online

A ccording to self-proclaimed believer-in-Christ Cliff Richard, this time of year is all about "mistletoe and wine, children singing Christian rhyme". Mmm, really. Not round my way, it ain't. This week, a fellow mother at my kids' school asked her children if they knew what the meaning of Christmas was. Her seven-year-old son replied, "Yeah, it's when Jesus died", while her four-year-old daughter piped up: "No, it's when Santa got stuck up the chimney." And, save for a few details, that is - more or less - right on the money.

If I'd been there, I would have drawn a clearer picture for them. If you are blessed with the gift of children, then Christmas is actually about getting on the phone at 9.01am every sodding morning from the beginning of December onwards calling every single branch of Woolworths in the country offering increasingly implausible bribes in exchange for a pink Nintendo DS console. Ye gods and little fishes, if only there were a little more of your "singing in Christian rhyme" and less of the wailing that there's no point in living without the new Gameboy. Not, I stress, because I believe in the birth of Christ or donkeys carrying Mary along dusty roads, but because it is just so phenomenally difficult to justify the massive expenditure and tear-inducing effort that go into making that one wretched day "special".

Christ, the Christians have it easy. Cleverly adjusting to the modern world, they've seamlessly made room for the whole Christmas-tree-covered-in-tinsel-and-surrounded-by-obscene-amounts-of-presents while still banging on up about immaculate births and angels with important messages. Of course, true believers like my Scottish Presbyterian grandparents knew that Christmas was not a time for celebration. Why, the very idea of enjoying yourself was a sin against the church. My 79-year-old mother remembers full well all God-fearing folk going to work in her small Borders town on 25 December. It was considered self-indulgent and not devout to laze about stuffing your face. As, indeed, it is but, hey, that's what Christmas is all about for us non-believers.

But I love carols and there's nothing like wee kiddies singing "The Little Drummer Boy" with their reedy little slightly off-key, voices to make me well up but I wish, wish, wish I held to the song's message. Unwavering belief in this whole drudge being about the celebration of the birth of an almighty would provide me with some much-needed substance and moral underpinning while enduring one of the season's favourite staples of queuing for three hours for a turkey hand-fed on individually selected golden grains by a handsome public school boy with a PhD in bird rearing.

What's really needed during the season of getting-so-drunk-you-can't-stand- up-before-11am is beliefs and not just in the salutary effects of an early-morning Bucks Fizz. But where do you get beliefs at this time of year? Everyone's run out - particularly if you want them in pink. You have to order early because even a four-year-old thinks it's about Santa being stuck up the chimney.

But if you can't get any in time, don't worry - you can always borrow someone else's. Surely there's someone in your area with some beliefs to spare. Isn't that what attending the candlelit carol service at your local church is all about? I mean, 364 days a year we walk past it without a backward glance, but if the faithful have gone to the bother of putting on a lovely, beautifully decorated event for Christmas, why not go even if you have no spiritual connection to its meaning? After all, it is the time for sharing. And, you never know, you might get a free drink while you're there.