What does Christmas really mean to you?
The worst month of the year is December. It's dark, dreary, cold, grey and miserable.
But for others it's a wonderful month, full of colour, lights, promise, hope, love, companionship, presents, singing, food, family... and Christmas.
As a child I loved Christmas, especially since December is my birthday month. However, having it two days before Christmas means that it mostly got swallowed up in all the other festivities that was going on. And I usually got one big present that did for both occasions.
And this meant while everybody got a Christmas present on the big day, I didn't as I had already had mine! That's not fair on a little girl watching everybody else opening up their parcels with happiness and glee.
My brother's birthday is Midsummer's Day, the exact opposite annually. It seemed as if he was always getting more presents than me every year.
During the first Christmas with my baby son we were short of money, especially since I had given up work to have him.
However, one of my favourite pastimes that winter was to go down town with him in the sling, and walk around the shops so he could enjoy the bright lights and coloured shapes. Which he thoroughly did until he fell asleep...
However, for me it was different. There was all this merchandise that was unavailable to me. Either through cost, or practicalities, or lack of desire.
There is so much to buy at Christmas, the retail part totally takes over. Shops are stocked with potential presents: good, bad or useless; expensive, tacky or inappropriate; so much stuff that really shouldn't be bought, all because of guilt and expectation.
When I was a teenager I joined the local church choir. It was the best choir in Sussex (we won prizes) and the quality of our singing rivalled King's College Cambridge for our Nine Lessons and Carols.
I thrived in that environment, so much so that I know most of the famous anthems, masses and requiems off by heart (even though my family won't let me sing any more). I learned to play the church organ and became proficient in chorale writing, harmony and counterpoint.
Christmas was a time for singing: soaring descants above the main tune, a cappella choir work for Monteverdi, learning the latest carol by David Willcocks or John Rutter's most recent contribution (who's music I had very little regard for), and carol singing in the streets collecting for charity (we always did very well).
Do I miss all of this? Yes. And it certainly wasn't for the religious reasons.
Now there is the constant stress of where we will be spending Christmas, to satisfy the family's whims. The rushing around through the shopping crowds trying to buy presents. The overhanging dread that your Christmas cards may have missed the last post (especially for those going abroad).
Talking about Christmas cards, it seems that my list is dwindling every year. I used to send out at least twice as many (the price of a stamp was much cheaper then), and this is matched by a severely reduced amount plopping onto our doormat throughout December.
And yet there doesn't to seem to be any electronic alternatives. It's free to send an email, even an image one, saving you 54p for a second class stamp. But nobody has cottoned onto this. Perhaps an emailed Christmas greeting is so easily lost as spam or goes the same way as other unwanted missives with a clicking-happy finger hovering over the delete button.
A good Christmas
If I could hibernate from 1-24 December (yes, even missing my birthday!), and then wake up for 25 December, I would be happy. I can understand why some people go on holiday to remote places during the Christmas period, just to get away from all this hype and hypocrisy.
Christmas is a time for close family. No expectations or presumptions. Presents are inexpensive gifts, chosen to delight the receiver. Food is not in excess, or cooked for the masses. The crap on the telly is ignored. A sunny, crisp day is thoroughly welcomed with a winter walk in the countryside, walking over the hills and not seeing a soul!
You could call me a Scrooge or a Grinch, but I wouldn't care. Christmas has been destroyed with materialism, retail and endless stress. Originally it was a festival to celebrate the lengthening of the days after Midwinter, to look forward to the coming Spring and times of plenty. But this has been forgotten, and now plenty is 'celebrated' for all the wrong reasons.