Christmas is the most magical time of year. It’s more magical than Derren Brown and Dynamo playing Quidditch in Las Vegas in a giant top hat. But what is Christmas? The dictionary says it’s “an annual Christian festival celebrated on December 25th”. But that isn’t “what is Christmas?”. It’s “when is Christmas?”. Dictionaries are useless. Which is why no one gets one for Christmas. They get useful things like novelty slippers and Turkish Delights.
Christmas, when we traditionally sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, is the second-most important occasion in the Christian calendar. The top Christian festival is actually the other one, Easter, when we sing goodbye to Jesus. Both festivals are pretty chocolatey, but Christmas has nuts in it as well. So it’s scientifically better.
The main event at this most seasonal time of the year is Christmas dinner. It’s the Hummer of meals: enormous, expensive, unnecessary and lethal whether you eat it or are hit by it at speed. The centrepiece of any Christmas dinner is the bird. For most people, that’s turkey, which is giant chicken. Or you can have capon, which is also chicken. Or goose, which is big ducks. Back in the Queen Elizabethan time, they even had swan, which is giant ducks, or peacock, which is sort of all of the above with a display behind it.
Christmas dinner has normal dinner things in, like potatoes and carrots, but there’s also brussels sprouts, bread sauce, stuffing, parsnips, cranberry sauce, red cabbage, mince pies, brandy butter– treats that are so delicious, we never think of eating them at any other time. And, of course, Christmas pudding, which is a big ball of boiling fruit tarmac that tastes a bit like shoe polish and can’t be destroyed, even by fire.
We have the Queen Victorians to thank for the modern Christmas, especially Mr Queen Victoria, whose real name was Prince Albert. Prince invented loads of Christmas traditions, like bringing a tree indoors. It sounds like a mad thing to do. You wouldn’t bring a pond or a hill or a farmer indoors – but suddenly everybody wanted to have a bit of a forest in their lounge.
Most of the carols we have now date from Queen Victorian times, when there was a bit of an epidemic of them. It’s illegal to sing carols at any other time of year, so people make the most of it at Christmas by coming round your house and singing at you until you give them stuff. At any other time of year, if you found your garden full of uninvited singers, you’d call the police, or Gareth Malone.
Some people say Christmas is better now than it used to be, because all the Queen Victorians got for Christmas was an orange or a piece of wood, which they could pretend was an iPhone 7, but they wouldn’t even know what that was. It’s very sad. But other people say Christmas was better in the olden days. That’s because they were kids then. Grown-ups don’t bother writing to Father Christmas – so is it any wonder they only get socks? He might own some flying reindeer, but he’s not psychic.
So what makes Christmas special? Maybe it’s that all the shops are shut. Except the Londis. Or maybe it’s because it’s a time for putting up with family. And you only do that on special occasions. Like funerals and photographs.
Or maybe it’s just that with all the overeating and overspending and oversinging, you go a bit crackers and think you’re having more fun than you actually are, like happens on strong medicine or a flume ride.
Told to Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris
Cunk on Christmas is on Thursday 29 December at 10pm on BBC2