I love Christmas. I love Christmas like a child loves Christmas — more, probably, because my happiness no longer depends on my chances of getting a Digimon Assault Zoid, or whatever the craze is this year. I love the anticipation of Christmas. I love the fact that the line “lo, he comes with clouds descending” extends to 16 syllables and the whole hymn takes half an hour to sing. I love the baffling secrets of Advent calendars, in which each carefully prised-open door reveals an anticlimax indicative of the fact that the creators clearly said, “Sod it, it’s only the eighth of December, let’s put a sock in it.”

I love hearing the same songs over and over. I love the contrived rhymes in “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” I love “Silver Bells” so much it makes me want to learn how to waltz. I love forgetting the words to “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I love dreaming of a “white Christmas with every Christmas card I write.” I can’t stand the Jackson Five singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

I love the mental strain of Christmas shopping. I love working out which of my friends can safely be sent cards with an explicitly religious message. I love the stern regret of Marley’s ghost that “mankind was my business.” I love reading the hideously smug letters sent by desiccated friends of my parents extolling the dubious virtues of their renegade progeny. (My mother, bless her heart, can never bring herself not to write such a letter, but this year we’re going to compose it in heroic couplets.)

I love carol services, especially those in which you’re given a candle and the light symbolically spreads from person to person whilst molten wax dribbles onto your trousers. I love “Silent Night,” with the mysterious character misidentified by an anonymous schoolboy as “Round John Virgin.” I love “Angels from the Realms of Glory” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” when they don’t use the modern version. I love the readings in the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols, from the prophecies of Isaiah to the tolling of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the word; and the word was God, and the word was with God.”

I love erecting the Christmas tree and showering pine needles across the carpet. I love identifying the one bulb that causes the fairy lights not to work. I love expending yards of tape attempting to wrap irregularly-shaped presents. I love seeing the cat screech into the kitchen after having upset the miniature tree on himself. I love unearthing peculiar decorations we made at school that inexplicably haven’t been thrown away. I love draping tinsel in places so outlandish that it’s only rediscovered in August.

I love eating chocolates so clearly named after Bond girls of the future: Hazel Whirl, Nutty Log, Golden Barrel, Chunky Truffle, Country Fudge, Caramel Velvet and the immortal Praline Moment.

I love Midnight Mass, hallooing “O Come All Ye Faithful!” and hugging everybody “Happy Christmas!” at the end of the service. I love calling a friend in New Zealand when I get home at 1 a.m. I love the letter from Father Christmas, even though two years ago he called me “serious and earnest,” which suggested the onset of senility; his handwriting certainly points that way, although to be fair he is 1,600 years old. (Clearly he needs more assistance from his little helpers — or subordinate clauses, as they’re more accurately known).

I love Christmas dinner. I love wearing a paper hat. I love 15 different types of vegetable. I love eating turkey for the entire following week. I love New Year’s Eve parties. I love the promise of another year and the futility of making resolutions — and the knowledge that it’s only 11 months until it all starts again, and that I’ll be wandering round with a loopy grin singing “Silver Bells” and listening to hear those sleigh bells in the snow.

God rest you merry, gentlemen — and ladies too, this being the season of goodwill.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2004.

Nick Baldock is one jolly ol’ St. Nick.