Christmas is surprisingly lovely, all things considered. I mean, in spite of its cultural origins in a relatively unhinged pagan festival and its religious origins in a story that involves infant genocide and unsanitary birth conditions, our experience of it is really, very sweet. Special. No day of the year is like Christmas. Children hover on the verge of detonation with sheer excitement and wonder in the run-up to it. Adults lavish generosity on friends and family and strangers and pets in a way that makes the rest of the year stop, grab them by the collar and demand, 'who are you, and what have you done with Bob?'
It's lovely. Like I said: special.
But it's not all shiny and beautiful like the nose of a non-scriptural reindeer. At Christmas we suspend our moral values. Don't argue. You know it's true. We overeat, we over-imbibe, we overspend and over-consume, and we don't call it gluttony, greed or poor stewardship. We call it special. 'Cos it's Christmas. We elevate our families and personal traditions to the level of religion and justify it by appeals to 'Christmas is a special time for family'.
I wish Christmas was a little less special.
Even the genuinely lovely side of Christmas is undermined by its specialness. Volunteers and donors clog up soup kitchens and charities for the poor around Christmas in a way that sometimes makes their contribution unusable or at least surplus to actual needs. We do something about it. Why? Because it's Christmas. Christmas is special. We care about people with nothing at Christmas. And I can't help but wonder whether, if Christmas were less special, less unusual, we might care the rest of the year.
There are people we only see at Christmas. You know the ones. In your mind they can only be pictured in festive reindeer jumpers. If Christmas were less special - if every day had a drop or two of yuletide spirit - would we invite the lonely round for dinner, recognising that being alone any day is almost as sad as being alone one day in December? Maybe not. Maybe Christmas just gives us an excuse to do kind things for people. But if that's true, I think it may also be the case that it gives us an excuse to do far less the rest of the year. At the times it's not special.
We need special days, high seasons and holy days. We can't live every day like it's Christmas. But it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if we shook the calendar like a snow globe and let some of the specialness of Christmas spread to the rest of the year.
Jonty Langley is an award-winning columnist and writes regularly for Christianity magazine