Joy to mankind, etc.

Hail, ruddy-cheeked youth! By those sparkling eyes I'd say you've been skating o'er the frozen Thames, sweet Mary shyly clasping one mittened fist, hot chestnuts clenched in t'other, pausing with festive laughter as the earth rolls with visible motion her diurnal round!

I know, dull as shit, isn't it.

Peace and good will are overrated. Sure, The Messiah's a pretty good jingle (the ravishing beauty of The Sixteen's performance at the Sheldonian a few years ago almost made me believe in the old sandal-sporting schlemeil) but all that 'we like sheep, we like sheep' is a bit Chorus of the Welsh Farmboys. Let it lie fallow for a year - it'll sound all the richer for it - and swap the star of the east for Kanye West; Wu-Tang Clan's latest album 8 Diagrams has a rough and rousing eclecticism that befits the spirit of an authentic pagan yule.

Then, wearing Le Smoking and a paper party hat, eschew the family, dig into some reindeer carpaccio and escape with Paul Bailey's Uncle Rudolph. In this modest novella, the aged Andrew Peters looks back to when he was Andrei Petrescu, an orphaned exile from fascist Romania who goes to live with, and comes to helplessly love, the eponymous uncle: a tender, rumbustious, promiscuous lyric tenor. It reminds me a little of John Banville's The Sea in its sad, sweet wisdom and perfectly crafted sentences, with Andrew retaining a foreigner's meticulous pleasure and curiosity in language. But as in Gabriel's Lament, another Bailey treasure, the melancholy is tempered with a spirit of Dickensian vaudeville and, that rare thing in a book, an underlying sense of deep, abiding joy.

And that, dear Tiny Tim, is what it's all about, after all. Now polish my boots.