Those killjoy health police can get stuffed - Christmas is for feasting, not fasting
Just one mince pie? You must be joking, says Fionola Meredith, this is the time to eat, drink and be merry
It's almost Christmas, which means it's time for the killjoy health experts to get their miserable messages out. It happens every year - a chorus of last minute pleas for the gluttonous masses to rein in their appetites and be sensible about what they eat and drink.
Sure enough, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has released figures showing that the average person will consume about 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone, which works out at nearly three times the recommended amount for men.
Ugh, what a heedless, feckless lot we are. How could we be so greedy and disgusting? Apparently it would take 37 minutes of high-intensity ice-skating to burn off the calories of just one mince pie.
Meanwhile, if you're thinking of indulging in a large glass of mulled wine, think again - it will take you 44 minutes to walk it off. That spicy, boozy drink doesn't seem quite so tempting now, does it? And that's the whole joyless plan.
According to the RSPH, we consume 1,450 calories during Christmas dinner, plus 820 more if we cram in a wodge of Christmas pudding with cream. You'd need to walk for seven hours to shift that lot in a day.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, urges us to try not to over-indulge, and Dr Frankie Phillips, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, advises us to stop eating when we feel full.
Why thank you, Dr Phillips, what a revolutionary idea. I'll also try to remember to chew and swallow my food and to breathe regularly. Always a good plan at any time of year.
But Frankie Phillips isn't finished with us yet. "If you are going to have a mince pie, try to just have one," she says. One single mince pie, really? You can tell it's going to be a real fun day round at Frankie's place. Steamed kale, perhaps, and a whole mince pie to yourself, if you're lucky.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of these latter-day puritans offering advice on what I should eat, how much and when, and it's even worse when they try to turn Christmas into a day of dietary penance. It's a feast day, for goodness sake. A time for eating, drinking, making merry. Whooping it up, not reining it in.
The writer Brendan O'Neill says that these small, elite, well-educated groups who lecture us about our behaviour have an "allergy to excess" - they fear that the masses are not capable of controlling themselves, but will splurge and go too far.
I think he's right.
But we are adults, not children, and we all decide for ourselves what we put in our mouths. We don't need to be taken in hand and told what to do for our own good.
Before Christmas was Christmas, it was Saturnalia, the Roman winter solstice festival. Now that was the kind of knees-up that would give the puritans a conniption. "Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping … an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water", according to Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180). It makes our own consumption of pigs-in-blankets look very restrained indeed.
It's bad enough when you're being bossed about by the health police, but when the hardline vegans get involved, it's definitely time to take refuge in McDonalds.
Earlier this month, the animal rights group Peta organised a stunt in Belfast city centre which involved an attractive, semi-naked woman lying on a plate, surrounded by vegetables, and lightly drizzled with gravy. The idea was that people should "try to relate to who's on your plate" and go vegan.
None of this will have any effect on me whatsoever. I will not look down at my slice of turkey on Christmas Day and see it as a sexy lady who's my special friend. I'll see it for what it is - tasty, good-quality meat, part of a great big plate of delicious food which I will consume with pleasure, and then I'll have seconds. And then there will be Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and cream, followed up by a goodly portion of trifle.
After a well-earned snooze, it'll be time for my mum's glorious home-made mince pies. Buttery, crumbly, juicy - honestly, it would be a cardinal sin to have only one of those.
Whatever you're doing, don't hold back, enjoy it all, and have a very happy Christmas.