1 - Kim Jong Il has kicked the bucket. Lonery no more.
2 - The origin of the word 'testify' goes back to a time when - if you swore on oath - you would place your hand on your testicles (assuming you had any), not your heart or, later, the Bible (and sometimes your mother's grave).
Down to business - Dickens. This is the week that everyone's mind is firmly set on fabricating the ephemeral notion of a good, secular Christmas, by ingesting an unrelenting diet of Charles Dickens - or at least everyone in the British Isles and it's former colonies.
Since Christmas day falls on a Sunday this year, we have an uninterrupted and clear run-up of 6 whole days to get the big idea, so there is no excuse to have to remind yourself of the correct attitude to adopt when greeting all those relatives who you told to eff off earlier in the year, when they knock on your door in the expectation of eating you out of house and home at around 2.00 pm on the 25th of December.
I sound a bit like a Scrooge myself, but - as I mentioned before - as each Christmas comes around and my grandchildren approach middle-age, I seem to get softer in my attitude to the festival. Maybe it's a case of 'if you can't beat them...'? I never used to beat them anyway, and now they are too big to even think about it.
It is generally believed that Charles Dickens invented Christmas some time in the mid 19th century, and the more I think about it, the more I believe it myself. The only difference is that I am more willing to suspend my disbelief, the older I get. Two other unsavoury facts which go with the Season of Goodwill: The Christmas tree was invented by a German aristocrat around 1830, and Santa Claus was invented by the Coca Cola Corporation around 1930. Who wants to believe that Santa was a Middle-Eastern terrorist anyway? (and who does?)
The other key aspect of Christmas is that it should be saturated with a deep and unyielding - almost overwhelming - sense of guilt too. Remember the starving as you stuff yourself to bursting point. Remember the lonely as you surround yourself with your nearest and dearest. Remember the cold and homeless as you chuck another log on the fire beneath the snow-covered roof of your cosy home. Remember the children who have nothing but old Coke (TM) cans to play with, as little Johnny unwraps the latest interactive Play Station (TM). Above all, remember all those poor people around the world who - by the simple accident of not being born into a Christian society - will not be celebrating Christmas at all this year, and instead sit around in 90 degree heat, thinking of nothing in particular.
My German mate remembers a time when he (an only child), was forced to spend Christmas day with his elderly parents in the chilly north of the country, and most of that time was spent watching crap T.V.
There was a tradition on German television at the time, when - around midnight - a camera team would be sent into a bar in the Reeperbahn district of Hamburg, and as the pictures of all the drunk and happy revelers who raised their glasses to the camera were shown - live - across the nation, the presenter would say in a sombre voice:
"And we should spare a thought for all those poor people who are unable to be with their families at this time of year..."
My mate used to long to leave the house and join them.