Twelve months stretch ahead of us, each with a character of its own. In our latest Big Question, six writers choose their favourite. For Charles Nevin, opening the series, it has to be a month that offers compelling contrasts...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012
What other month can hold a candle to December? Yule, Yalda, Saturnalia, Hannukah, Christmas and more: when else can you find such feasts of fun, generosity and goodwill? What more benign times are there than when children hear the magic creak on the midnight stair, auntie sips her cream sherry and gets ever chattier, uncle unwraps his socks (again), or granddad gently snores off his lunch, with his mouth still open and his paper crown rakishly askance? Exactly.
It’s true that December has not been as feted as some of its flashier fellows. No darling buds and mellow fruitfulness here; rather, on the few occasions the 12th month has inspired verse, there has been a sad concentration on the dark, the drear and the bare (thank you, W. Shakespeare and J. Keats). You could argue, too, that a principal reason why many of these festivals are when they are (in northern climes at least) is because of that drear, dark, bareness: they are a defiant celebration, a great cock-snook to nature at its most miserable.
But such negativity does December a rank injustice: its excellence is precisely because of the verve and delight of this compelling contrast and many others: glittering frost icing dark branches; figures black against the snow in best Brueghel fashion; glowing cheeks, stamping feet and steaming breath in the early dusk, with the promise of inside warmth soon to come; mirth and melancholy. It does rain, of course, but it’s somehow more acceptable in December. The country is the place to be, too, and not just this country: December in Australia is a disconcertingly good time, involving sunny surfing Santas and flying sleigh-towing kangaroos. I can also recommend the holy city of Najaf, where I once spent Christmas Day interviewing an Iraqi ayatollah. It went rather well.
December has always been the high month for those of a contemplative turn. The soldiery halted their campaigns for a bit of rest and boasting, there were few of those irritating chores on the land (planting, harvesting, that sort of thing), and the long nights and the home fires were made for stories, reflection and resolution. And so it remains. December’s greatest gift is still the solstice sun, diamond-bright or vibrant orange against the cold air and the clear light. Anyone still unconvinced should try, if habit and habitat allow, an open fire on Christmas morning with a streaming sun and a glass of the iciest champagne.
Which month do you think is the best? Have your say by voting in our online poll. Read James Lasdun on April, A.D. Miller on May, John Burnside on July, Kathleen jamie on October and Ann Wroe on Brumaire.
Charles Nevin is author of "The Book of Jacks" and a freelance writer