Christmas time is special for many, not just practising Christians.

Its communal importance is such that the government chose to temporarily relax Covid rules they say are necessary to keep us safe. In announcing this risky decision PM Johnson stressed the significance of Christmas as a “family ‘holiday’.” The evolution of the words “holy day” is interesting.

Like several words of religious origin, the meaning has long been secularised. Is anyone bothered that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are named in honour of Germanic gods Woden, Thor and Frigg, or that Saturday commemorates Saturn, the Roman god of renewal?

The tradition across the northern hemisphere of marking this darkest and coldest season with festivities pre-dates Christianity. There are striking similarities between our festive season and the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia held between December 17 and 23. This year’s boom in the sale of Christmas trees, a relic of ancient Norse tradition, is also remarkable.

2020 has seen much loss, grief and hardship, with precious little to celebrate. No wonder so many of us have been looking forward to this key time of year, whatever our religion or non-religious belief.

It is an annual break from routine when we can all unite in celebrating the universal values of love, fellowship and life. So let us all savour this occasion, but with prudence. Let us also remember those less fortunate, and vow to do what we can to make our world kinder, fairer and safer next year.