Christmas entertainment is more than reruns of The Guns of Navarone. Two thousand years of Christian celebration have inspired some of the world’s greatest art. If you prefer to take your Christmas story with a bit more edge than Dickens offers, why not head over to the Queen’s Gallery to contemplate Bruegel’s brutal, piercing Massacre of the Innocents? Or pop into the National Gallery as a break from your last-minute shopping and experience the eerie majesty of Piero della Francesca’s Nativity, with its choir of angels singing over an infant Christ, naked on the ground. Or there’s always that irresistible moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus recites from the King James Bible.
If you take your Christmas without religion, try Horace’s wintry ninth ode from 32BC – there is no better written invitation to uncork the good stuff when the snow starts falling, or to enjoy the pleasures of love while you are young.
Your response to our Christmas appeal raised over £1m, so this scarcely needs saying. Thanks to your help, more entrepreneurs in Africa will be given the chance to create wealth for their families next year. Charity is not just given online but also, as it were, hand-to-hand. That spirit of kindness to one another can be hard to maintain toward our relatives by the end of a long Christmas afternoon. At such times, I turn to Marilynne Robinson, a great modern writer who dramatises the unfashionable challenge of virtue. Nassim Taleb of Black Swan fame prefers the Roman stoics. This year, when a cousin lets you down in a crucial Pictionary heat, just breathe deeply, reach for the brandy and remember that Christmas only comes once a year.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear is my favourite carol. Its lyrics warn that the angels who visited the shepherds at the first Christmas are still singing, but our wrangling drowns them out. It reminds me of the mediaeval hermit Richard Rolle. After years of solitary prayer, he claimed he was singing in the celestial chorus while still alive. Christmas is not just about celebration with family and friends. It’s also an opportunity to turn off the daily hubbub for a moment. We may not hear the angels singing, but we all deserve to enjoy a little tranquillity.
However you choose to spend your Christmas, may it be a merry one. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Marc Sidwell is managing editor of City A.M.