James GRAY   Conservative MP for North Wiltshire

My letter to my constituent had ended with warm best wishes for a Very Happy Christmas. She did not agree with some aspect of what I had written, and replied with a letter ending “Merry Midwinter Solstice.” It’s not quite as bad as “Seasonal Greetings”, or even “Happy Holidays” which some cards wish me, apparently out of respect for those who are not Christians. Well, to them I would say: “You may not be Christians. That is your right. But what we are celebrating on 25th December, whether you like it or not, is the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem 2015 years or so ago.

The tinsel and presents and trees and turkey must not be allowed to obscure the carols and religious observance of the holiest of all holy celebrations. To Christians, the birth of Christ in the stable to Mary and Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds is quite simply the most important historical event before then or since. It gives meaning to the mystery which is life. And it is right to celebrate that vital event at this special time of the year.

Yet there is nonetheless plenty of ancient pagan ritual about the marking of the Midwinter Solstice. Apparently the Druids who spend so much time at Stonehenge at the Summer Solstice are getting it all rather wrong. The ancient people, I am told, truly celebrated the Shortest Day of the Year on 21 December, rather than the longest one on 21 June. The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the rebirth of life and light, the start of the return of the sun, and a hope of better crops, warmth and food in the children’s bellies to come. (The birth of Christ may not be disassociated with that feeling of the rebirth of life) It’s also the gloomiest time of the year (despite this unseasonal warmth), and a little bit of midwinter cheer is fair enough.

“Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly; ‘tis the Season to be jolly” in the words of the old English Carol. “We all love figgy pudding and we won’t go until we get some’ and Good King Wenceslas trudging through the snow to take ‘ Yonder pilgrim some flesh and wine, and pine logs’ are all part of the warm spirit of neighbourliness and jollity which marks off the Christmas Season.

So let’s not be too pious about it. Those of us who are Christians will mark the special day by going to Church. Others who are not may well go anyhow for the sake of the tradition and jolly carols. We will eat and drink and be merry, watch the Queen at three PM, and attend the Meet of the Hunt at Lacock on Boxing Day in the hope of partial relief from the resulting hangover.

It’s all a way of remembering the birth of Christ, shaking off the midwinter blues and engaging in a spot of brotherly love and neighbourly celebrations, and let’s just enjoy all of its many aspects.

So I wish all my readers a Merry Midwinter Solstice, Happy Hanukah, a Cool Yule, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays. But more than any of that I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas.