The familiar tunes never fail to get us in the festive mood – but many of them have remarkably un-Christmassy roots, writes Mark Forsyth.
The Christmas carol service was invented in Truro in 1880 by a chap called Edward WhiteBenson. The story goes that on Christmas Eve everybody in Truro would get disgustingly drunk, and that the Bishop of Truro (Benson) was so disgusted that he decided to lure everybody out of the pub and into the church with his new service.
The problem with this story is that there’s no evidence that that’s what motivated Benson. And we do know a lot about him. He later became Archbishop of Canterbury and his whole family had something of a mania for writing. His wife had 39 lesbian lovers. How do we know that? Because she kept a diary, and numbered them. One of his sons was the eminent gay novelist EF Benson. Another was the eminent gay poet Arthur Benson.