As I've got older (and far more outspoken about my disdain for religion) around this time of year someone usually points out how hypocritical it is for a self-confessed apostate heathen to celebrate Christmas.
Well, the thing is, I don't celebrate Christmas...at least not 'Jesus's Birthday'.
In the past, I've self-righteously pointed out how no-one knows when Jesus' Birthday is, and the 25th was deliberately chosen specifically to co-opt the ancient Roman festivals of 'Saturnalia' and 'Dies Natalis Solis Invicti'… after all, the easiest way to stamp out a competing belief system is to co-opt their rituals and festivals.
But, today I want to ask another question. For all of recorded history, every major culture has some sort of Festival on or around the Winter Solstice...why is that?
Here's why: Because for the vast majority of human history, Winter wasn't just a time to put on a jumper and bitch about higher heating bills. It was a terrifying, dangerous time. It's cold, nothing grows, fuel is in limited supply...so you'd better hope your harvest was successful and that the Winter is short and mild, because if it's not, people are going to die.
...and that's what the myriad of Winter Festivals are about. On the shortest day of the year, in the depths of winter, when the darkness is longest and the air is coldest, you gather around a fire with your family, friends and loved ones and act like it's the last time you'll ever see them, because it's a very real possibility that it might be. It's a time of giving and sharing, because maybe not everyone has enough...and above all, a time to tell the people you love exactly how much they mean to you.
That's what this time of year is about. It doesn't need God or Gods. It doesn't need Prophets or Forest Spirits or supernatural beings to make it special. For all of human history this has been a time of year for people to come together for the common good.
So, basically, I don't give a shit what banner you sit under for the rest of the year. I don't care if you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or worship your dog's left testicle.
This time of year is about getting together with your family and friends and celebrating. It's about going out of your way to help people. What it's absolutely not about is drawing lines and dividing ourselves by arguing over what name we've assigned to the things we believe in. If your neighbour is starving and you have food to spare, or they're freezing and you have space by your fire, it shouldn't matter what they call their God. If it does matter to you, I don't think you read your holy book properly, and if your holy book told you that's how to behave...then it isn't a book worth reading.
It's dark, it's cold, but if we work together maybe we'll see the light again.
So Happy non-denomination Winter Festival, people. We're halfway through the darkness. Tell the people you love that you love them, and maybe I'll see eachother on the other side.