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Mary Kenny: No matter how much I dread Christmas, its magic wins me over in the end


Fitting farewell: The late Lynda Bellingham in the classic OXO ad, which will be screened on Christmas Day

Fitting farewell: The late Lynda Bellingham in the classic OXO ad, which will be screened on Christmas Day

Fitting farewell: The late Lynda Bellingham in the classic OXO ad, which will be screened on Christmas Day

The world is divided into those who love Christmas, and those who hate it. And then there is the sub-category of those who loathe Christmas, but feel guilty about it. Charles Dickens has a lot to answer for, in his creation of the character of Scrooge.

Those of us who dislike Christmas as presently instituted live in fear of the "Bah, humbug!" catcall. Dickens was canny - in his blatantly sentimental propaganda story - to link Scrooge with miserliness, for no one likes a tightwad who doesn't stand his (or her) round.

But most of us who dread the approach of the Season of Goodwill are not prompted by motives of parsimony, although the prices involved are sometimes eye-watering. It's the amount of work involved. Especially for women. The shopping, the cooking, the decoration, the wrapping up: it's not the thought that counts, I reflect as I struggle with bits of Sellotape in a tangle - it's the wrapping up.

The old Irish tradition of 'the Women's Christmas' - Nollaig na Mna - on January 6 should be honoured universally as a compensation for the amount of skivvying involved in the main event.

In early November, I saw a woman at a railway station, carrying a shopping bag containing a collection of fully-wrapped Christmas gifts. I call that flaunting it.

But there are Christmasophiles as well as Christmasophobes. There are people who really love Christmas - love decorating the tree, hanging the cards tastefully, planning the food and the drink, putting up the crib. Baby Jesus still has a place in all this hullaballoo: more people attend a church service at Christmas than at any other time of the year.

Germany is big on Christmas, and their Christmas markets are famous. Biographers tell us that Eva Braun - very briefly Mrs Hitler - was mad about Christmas. Since Adolf hated meat, and meat-eaters, you wonder whether she cooked a goose or not?

There have been various attempts to abolish Christmas: Cromwell tried to put a stop to the bacchanalia, since it prompted people to "make a god out of their bellies".

More recently, various secularists have had a go. A few years ago, Birmingham city council sought to replace 'Christmas' with 'Winterval', alleging that it was "offensive" to Muslims and other non-Christians that a holiday based on 'Christ's Mass' should be on the calendar.

Other Christian holy days have faded - not many people under 40 now recognise Whitsun, and only posh universities have Michaelmas.

Good Friday is annually under siege from those who claim that their human rights have been grossly trampled on by the closure of public houses.

However, as both Cromwell and the advocates of 'Winterval' have learned, Christmas is just too big a brand to oppose.

Entire economic structures are based on Christmas. The publishing business, like many other enterprises, would sink entirely were it not for the disproportionate volume of trade conducted at Christmas. Re-branded as 'Winterval'? Not a chance.

And that's the nub for those of us who dread the prospect of Noel. Whether we like it or not, we get drawn into it. The Christmas Carol propaganda works. How could we be a Scrooge? How could we be so mean-spirited as to deny the children the joy of Christmas jollity?

How could we not warm to childish voices lifted in the harmony of Away In A Manger? How could we be so churlish as not to grow moist-eyed at Love, Actually or It's A Wonderful Life? How could we put aside our feelings for family and friends? How could we not ponder on 'Auld Acquaintance'?

And how could we not appreciate that, for families whose darling daughters and sons are living or working abroad, Christmas is a time for reunion, and diaspora returning? Or that small towns which suffered badly during the economic downturn are cheered by the display of Christmas lights, even when they illuminate shuttered premises.

And so, I interrupt attention to my tax papers - as my tax returns are due by January, I often spend time around Yuletide buried in bits of paper noting revenue and costs - to capitulate to the celebration of Christmas. I put up a sprig of holly or two, and turn on a cheapo mini-Christmas tree, which, with striking vulgarity, emits coloured illuminations. I do like the crib, because of its sweetness and humility (and I don't forgive Pope Benedict for saying there wasn't a donkey present - legend can tell us more than scholarship).

That's the message of Christmas. It's bigger than we are.

Belfast Telegraph