When I was a child I loved the Christmas season, but after I was dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood I quickly learned to hate it. I have never liked crowds; I have always been disgusted by conspicuous consumerism; I was too old for greed and too poor for generosity, which left me open to boatloads of guilt. And then one quiet afternoon, several Decembers ago, I was masochistically reading an op-ed piece by a Protestant clergyman in which he lamented the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, and implored the reader to remember the true meaning of the holiday, and I had what I can only describe as a religious experience.
While Reverend Solemn was whimpering on the page in front of me, I heard the voice of a ghost from a Garth Ennis short story, saying, "In my day we got together for an orgy, and now YOU have to go to Mass." And I grinned, and I closed my eyes, and I saw an image of the Horned God towering above an over-decorated shopping mall, his fists raised above his head in triumph, and I heard him say, "It has always been my festival; it has been 1700 years, but I have taken it back, and I WILL RULE!" And I laughed.
I suddenly understood what the festival has always been about, from the day the first city was built around the first fermentation vat: people in temperate climes NEED a mid-winter debauch. Nature in mid-winter is doing her best to filter the gene pool; the healthiest and most affluent of us are still inconvenienced, while the less affluent and the less healthy are in misery. Winter, for all of its beauty, cages us and in so doing crushes our souls. So we need a party. We need to get together, forget our petty animosities in the face of the common enemy, and squander a week's rations in a single night's revelry. We need to set aside our existence as snowbound troglodytes and LIVE! And above it all the Horned God laughs.
I am still not fond of crowds, but I am no longer offended by the thought of glassy-eyed consumers spending money they don't have on things they don't want; pointless excess is the soul of the festival. I am still sorry that the masses seem to have stumbled upon the form of the festival without acquiring its spirit-but the spirit is there regardless, and those of us who see it can revel in it.
We are alive! Winter has turned a corner, and we have survived another year! Let us rejoice!
And the Horned God laughs.