Don't get me wrong. I'm no "bah humbug" monger – in fact, I'm not even sure it's possible to be a 'monger' of anything other than fear and fish. However, I have finally reached an age where I can hold my hands up without shame and say, you know what? I don't totally love Christmas.
Non-Christians often make the sweeping assumption that I and my ilk will be all about the festive season. "I mean, it actually means something to you," they'll say, raising their eyebrows in a knowing way. They look all geared up to receive a dramatic pre-prepared speech about putting the Christ back in Christmas.
The thing is folks, as us God botherers are well aware, there's already more than enough Christ in Christmas when you're a Christian. In fact, the amount of church-related jobs you're expected to perform come advent grows exponentially until the big day itself, whereupon you explode in a stressed-out heap of over-commitment. For such is the level of charitable and social engagements that it's virtually mandatory to participate in – carol services, church Christmas meals, home group socials, more carols at a home for the elderly, alternative carols al fresco to raise money for a local charity, additional carols at your parents' church...
As the one time of year that the secular world seems to invest a little more in religion – not shying away from the nativity their kids perform in at school, say, or attending mass with their family where they actually quite enjoy bellowing out Hark the Herald Angels Sing – there's suddenly a lot more pressure on us reps of the Lord Almighty to giveth of ourselves. We need to be in three places at once, we're on seven different rotas, we're singing ourselves hoarse and we're doling out the free mulled wine and mince pies because it's "a great time of year to connect with people about Jesus".
And the whole thing is EXHAUSTING.
no use pretending it's not. What may once have been seen as a time of waiting, patience and peace, during which we humbly reflect on God's love for us in sending his Son to teach us and die for us, has now become a never-ending merry-go-round of chores. It's not to say these aren't fun, in their way – there's just so darn many of them. It's like battling some kind of Tolkien-esque sea monster, where every time you succeed in chopping off a tentacle another two grow back in its place.
The Christians I know claw and scrape their way towards Christmas in a whirlwind of busyness, focused maniacally on the finish line and holding fast to the knowledge that, once there, they can stop and collapse in a heap. A burnt-out husk with a thousand-yard stare, come Christmas morn they whisper reassuringly to themselves, "It's over. I'm free," again and again.
The insane Advent period can be so blindingly busy and anxiety-inducing, we even forget that being a Christian does not make you immune to the excesses, stresses and strains of the day itself. The booze-fuelled hyper-tense arguments over Pictionary, the over-excited demonic cries of under-sevens high on sugar, the pointed comments about the meat being "a touch dry" – every family has their breaking point. And after a month of being over-stretched in every direction, we're often not as on top of the tactful diplomacy as we should be.
So don't beat yourself up if you feel more overwhelmed than overjoyed at the prospect of Jesus' birth this year – it's perfectly natural. My favourite part of Christmas? The Epiphany. Those wise men had the right idea: turn up late for the party, miss the crowds and get on with worshipping Jesus.