We are African apes and our psyche gets freaked out by prolonged darkness and cold. So our cultures develop these festivals, not just a day but a festive season, smack in the week of the darkest days. Having to think about it and prepare for it keeps our mind off the elements.
Imagine how miserable it'd be if we just carried on with no festive season, no colourful lights, just colder, darker, colder, darker.
As it is, by the time you've recovered from the midwinter stuff - even if you find it a gruelling challenge of enduring old family grudges - the days are getting longer and you've fooled yourself into being halfway through winter without really noticing.
It's a good strategy, though not as good as hedgehogs and, especially, marmots. Marmots don't store food for winter, they just eat themselves silly all summer long so that by September their bellies touch the ground. Then they go to bed in their burrows for six months. The only interruption is once every three weeks when the whole colony wakes up, goes outside for a dump, then goes back to bed.
That, my friends, is how it should be done.
Not being as clever as marmots, humans show their goodwill by buying their children plastic tat they don't really need made by children the same age going blind working in poorly lit Asian sweatshops. A time for forgetting our ill-will to others, even as we cause it.
As Tom Robinson said in his Christmas song Truce
Truce, call a truce
Stop all the bitching and backbiting
Who'd leave their lover
Or send in the bailiffs
This one day of the year?
Truce, call a truce
Stop all the sackings and the stealing
Who'd rape a schoolgirl
Or cut off someone's pension
And spoil all this Christmas cheer?
...But the very next day
It's back to the fray...
And so we're into the new year and David Cameron's off to a flying start, scaring sick people and promising to take away the pittance that stands between them and destitution.
I've just published a new post about it over at The Sharpener called Tax and Attacks on the Sick