Friday 22 December 2017


It's probably not surprising that after such a torrid a year as 2017, and with political ineptitude, weaponised ignorance and institutionalised inequality rampant, that December feels gloomier and more bitingly bleak than ever. Associated as the month is with the festive blow-out of Christmas few of us are really in the mood for debt, social obligation or bad decisions.

Indeed, as the sheer amount of information, media, opinion and discord increases exponentially ever year it becomes almost impossible to ignore let alone stomach the plastic and manipulative sentimentality of the season. After all, it is very hard to believe in a season of good will where the John Lewis Christmas advert cost £1 million to make and £6 to promote, and where Virgin Health can successfully sue the NHS during its worst winter funding shortage in decades. In 2017 it feels that, collectively, we are not in the mood.

So maybe it is time to return to the source of the matter. As has been continuously asserted before the Christian festival of Christmas owes both its date and most of its traditions to those of the winter solstice and its associated festivals. The point of those festivals was to celebrate the beginning of the end of the winter, the return of the sun, and the end of the 'famine months' of darkness and want. And the form those festivals took was an excess of drink, food, merriment, dancing and warmth – often centred around the blazing symbol of the fire. These were the origins of the winter fire festival, of the kind that is making a gradual comeback today.

The fire, then, is the key. Bringer of warmth and light, shining in the depth of the winter, almost like a sun that is summoned to appear in our (literal) darkest hour. It also stimulates growth, provides the warmth needed to cook and to thaw cold bodies. It also has other connotations. For example, the Jamaican concept of 'more fire' refers to the cleansing, purging energy of fire and flame that burns away negativity. Similarly, the Romanian term for music played with gusto – 'cu foc' (literally 'more fire') – correlates the fire with passion. Fire has an essential viscerality, especially in the depths of winter, that represents renewal, rebirth, passion and cleansing anger.

It is that spirit, the spirit of a Saturnalian excess and of the beginnings of the new, which are the real roots of the festive spirit. Everything else – sharing, giving, celebrating, reaching out to the less fortunate – stem from this. In this way a basic bonfire has more genuine joy than a thousand Moz the Monsters.

So if the grinding, abrasive weight of the winter starts getting you down this Christmas then simply refocus on the real energy of the season – that of survival, celebration, and hope for the Christmas.

Have a great solstice everyone, and a happy new year.

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