Leave the lights on for winter

There are many terrible things about Christmas, but the worst is the way it steamrollers the rest of the winter into submission. It is a juggernaut from which there is no escape, with iron rules of conduct surrounding it. Truly the Saddam Hussein of holidays.

There are lots of reasons to like it, of course, but Christmas even manages to crush the hope it brought in the first place. The iron diktat of Christmas means that the warmth, jollity, and light the festival brings must cease on Twelfth Night. On January 5th (or the 6th, if your Christmas is zero-based), the decorations must come down. Many people start to take them down well before then.

Why? Because to leave them up is bad luck, or so it is said.

This is, of course, nonsense. Unless you are independently wealthy and have to work for a living, you are already the victim of bad luck. Leaving your decorations up is not going to make the slightest bit of difference.

This superstition is what makes Christmas such a tyrant. In the northern half of Europe, where I live, the winter is a dark and desperate time. In the depths of December, the sun goes down around 4:30pm, and in the midst of wintry squalls and heavy rain, leaden skies mean it is dark enough to need the lights on any time after 3pm.

I am lucky that the quirk of longitude and the position of the sun means that sunset happens a little later. For my mother, who lives close to the Greenwich meridian, the sun disappears before the clock strikes four.

So a plea, for your own mental health as much as mine. On Twelfth Night, take down the tree, put away the crib, tidy away the cards, but leave the lights up. The winter is long and dark, and we need all the light we can get. Having lights in windows and hedges makes the gloom of December and January marginally more tolerable, and helps bide the time until the sun starts to climb the heavens again.

Free winter from the shackles of Christmas, and make it easier to bear for longer. Put your lights up in November, take them down in February. There is no need to suffer the darkness.