I hope nobody gets a gun for Christmas

If women did not exist, Christmas would not exist. That much is evident. There had to be a woman, after all, to kick-start the whole deal.

It is women who do the panicky shopping in the weeks leading up to the big event; women who plan menus and table settings and panic in advance; women who insist the day conforms to the expectations of Christmas cards, while we boast - under the guise of complaining - of the vast numbers of people we'll be catering for because we're so popular and can afford it.

When people ask what I'm doing for Christmas, I mutter something inaudible, giving the gushing questioner, who really doesn't want to know anyway, the chance to tell me, in triumph, that her family will be at their beach house, holiday home or overseas timeshare amid a vast clan of totally well-adjusted, high- flying and amazingly attractive relatives.

I would like to reply and say, "Flagellating myself with my little flail, then attending church all day", because nothing puts a dampener on the season quite as much as a hint of religion, and a dampener is what Christmas needs. It exists only to keep tinsel factories going, to justify kitsch production in Asia and to pig out on desserts.

The annual feast will be forgotten in a century's time, when people will have forgotten what Christianity - there was a link - was about.

That will be hard on children, although they will never know what they missed, but much easier on parents, who won't have to buy tonnes of expensive plastic stuff that will never biodegrade, but will make their children happy for one day.

If there are still archaeologists in 500 years, they will dig up our middens and find plastic Supermen, Lego, hobbits, smurfs, My Little Ponies, G I Joes and Barbie dolls.

They will develop fascinating theories about these obvious gods and goddesses, and puzzle over why they were ritually buried in landfills along with the makings of mysterious multicoloured temples. Possibly they will correctly identify them with a cult of obsolescence that overtook the world in the 20th century.

One thing I hope nobody gets for Christmas is a gun. A tragedy in Connecticut in the United States has tainted the season in advance, with the deaths of 20 children and eight adults who gave up their lives to a kid with an arsenal that his mother kept in their home.

Americans are not like us. We ought to know that because their films and television programmes so often feature guns as the most important and decisive characters.

Being able to subdue people with the flash of a pistol obviates the need for a more complicated storyline. Evil characters are simply blasted from the world.

It's tempting to extend that to American overseas adventures. Their policy-makers sometimes seem to act as if the same thing will conveniently happen on a bigger scale, when they send an army to a country that has offended the US.

We don't understand this, because we haven't grown up thinking about weapons in quite the same way or believing they are necessary to keep us safe. Nor do we share American idealism.

It is sad that the killer's mother had weapons and had made sure her young, socially alienated son knew how to use them. She paid for that with her life, as did her son and so many others.

Of course, she was a mother and didn't imagine her son would ever use a gun murderously, but how did she imagine he would use one if not to kill?

In Louisiana some years ago, I caught sight of a very fat sheriff sitting with his feet up on a porch, like a cliched character in a comedy sketch.

My first thought was that he wouldn't be fit enough to chase an offender.

Then I realised he would never need to run - he had a gun.

That knowledge never makes me comfortable in countries with armed police. How much worse it must feel to live in neighbourhoods where everyone around you is armed to the teeth.

The Press