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Last Updated: Monday, 25 December 2006, 03:34 GMT
Is it OK to go online on Christmas Day?
By Stephen Tomkins

The vicar of Dibley goes online herself
What's your excuse?
What are you doing reading this - haven't you got anything better to do, on this of all days? Do you, as the great poet said, know it's Christmastime at all?

I hate to leap to conclusions about anyone, but I say, from what I know of you, that you're an unsociable Scrooge, creeping away from the jolly throng singing carols around the tree, to check your e-mails, browse aimlessly, gorge on humbugs and skulk. You're probably not even wearing your paper crown.

Admittedly, you're not alone. Last year almost 1.3 million people found time out of their festivities to visit this website on Christmas Day. That's a fair few, but just a third of those who visit on a normal day. It seems there are plenty of people for whom family fun and a stodgy pudding have more attraction than the internet.

Of course there are all kinds of reasons why you might be reading this on Christmas Day, other than unsocial behaviour.

Perhaps your job is so important you have to come in to work today. Though if your job allows you to sit around reading this, what is so important about it? Go on, go home, where your delighted family will turn from the flickering fireside and offer you a roasted chestnut. No-one will mind.

Online addict

More likely, you're an addict. You're an internet user. You mainline online, and simply can't make it through to Doctor Who without your daily fix.

Demonstrating a laptop in Santa's grotto
Preparations in hand...
I bet when you come home from a holiday the first thing you do is turn on not the kettle or even the light, but the computer, to catch up with your spam, to see whether the worldwide web has missed you, and just because that chime makes you feel normal again. Don't worry, you're amongst friends now.

Or perhaps you just wanted to touch base with the outside world, to check with the BBC whether anything important had happened. Which is legitimate, in theory. Except that you're reading this, and if you believe it's going to get useful and informative in the second half, you are only fooling yourself. Addict it is, and the sooner you admit it the sooner you will be able to tear yourself away and go and have a drink.

That said, I should not overlook the possibility that you are spending the nativity season alone, without friends or family, through no choice of your own. In which case, I apologise for my insensitivity, and belatedly acknowledge that Christmas must be a miserable time of the year for some people, and I've probably made it worse, and I feel very bad about that. There, now you've spoilt my Christmas too. Thanks.

Then again, global reader, you may live in a part of the world where Christmas simply doesn't happen. Last Christmas, 39% of readers of the BBC news website were from outside the UK, compared to 31% on a normal day. That's a pretty watertight excuse.

Reality bites

Another possibility is that a merry Yule is going on all around you, but you refuse to let it happen to you. You may, for example, be a non-Christian who can't see why the fact that Jesus was born on an unknown date should oblige you to cover a fake fir tree with tinsel, eat sprouts and watch The Vicar of Dibley in his name.

Tempted yet?
You may, for that matter, be a Christian who can't see why the fact that Jesus was born on an unknown date should oblige you to cover a fake fir tree with tinsel, eat sprouts and watch The Vicar of Dibley in his name.

And yet, after all that, perhaps the reason you're surfing today is simply that it's something to do. We like to think that Christmas should be a day unlike any other, but once you've opened your presents, eaten your dinner and played with your children's toys, what you've got left is pretty much a day like any other, except with better TV.

The image we carry around of friendly robins, wall-to-wall jollity and snow-covered windows through which Dickensian lantern-swinging urchins sing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen rarely seems to materialise. And when reality fails us, there's always cyberspace. So here we are.

Ah well, merry Monday, and a happy new week.

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