Imagine a scientist telling you about an experiment he's planning. He will select a group of people who have nothing in common except being related by blood or marriage, imprison them in a confined space, feed them massive quantities of sugar, protein and alcohol, expose them to a nonstop barrage of degraded, overfamiliar entertainment, turn the heating up, and see who cracks first. You'd call that cruel and inhuman. And yet that's what many of us volunteer for, every year.
Why do we do it? Why do we succumb to the seasonal plague of sadomasochistic insanity that we call Christmas? Simple. It's because we get sentimental.
Sentimentality is a type of emotional totalitarianism. Tyrants are invariably sentimental. Hitler, chuckling at his unpleasant dog and slapping his lederhosen to the martial rhythm of Teutonic folk songs; Mao Zedong, spellbound by the shrill pieties of the Chinese Opera, many of whose plots feature children who love their parents so much that it nearly breaks their stout little hearts to denounce them to the secret police; Stalin, wiping away an avuncular tear as he pats the heads of Young Pioneers whose murders he will authorize a few years later without a blink. And what could be more sentimental than the crazed bucolic vision that inspired Pol Pot and his regime?
However, you can't blame Dickens for what so many people whine about, which is the commercialisation of Christmas. But we live in a commercial society. If you don't like it you're welcome to treat Christmas as a purely religious ritual, commemorating the birth of Christ. Try to forget the part about the three wise men bringing those costly consumer items as gifts. As it happens, there were originally four wise men who set out on the journey, but one of them kept lecturing the others about the commercialisation of Christmas, and is now buried somewhere in the desert.
And as we all know, Christmas was a time of celebration long before Christians decided to join in. For as long as there have been humans they've always feasted at this time of year, sometimes on each other. After which they settled down around the fire for some traditional entertainment. Maybe the local shaman, ripped on mushrooms, would reprise some much-loved classics, such as 'The One Where We Eviscerated The Mammoth' or 'How Your Short, Brutal Life Will End in the Slavering Jaws of a Huge, Terrifying Beast'. Alternatively, the shaman might enact a heartwarming tale of redemption featuring flying reindeer, little people, and an atavistic hierophant with magical powers - all of which are common elements in the mythologies of northern peoples with a fondness for hallucinogens. There's a theory that these stories originate in the visions produced by Amanita Muscaria mushrooms (also known as Fly Agaric), whose vivid red and white colour scheme is replicated in the costume of the hierophant we call Santa Claus. The mushrooms grow in clusters around fir trees - just like the ones we bring into our homes at Christmas. They cause hallucinations in which objects and people appear to change size (hello, elves) and they're poisonous when ingested normally by humans. But back in the mists of time, someone discovered (and it's interesting to speculate exactly how) that if you drink the urine of reindeer that have eaten them, you can absorb them safely and have a nice trip... a trip which might understandably feature such elements as flying reindeer and the rest. So maybe we should think again about eating yellow snow. Cheers.