We British like a drink, and never more so than at Christmas. For the overwhelming majority of us, booze is an essential consolation for the stresses of our daily lives. It’s part of our culture, which is why most of us mark every single significant occasion with a glass of something cheering.
We sympathise, don’t we, with the psychologist William James, who wrote, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), that “sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no” whereas “drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes”. He believed that alcohol stimulates our mystical faculties and helps to bring us into contact with transcendent truths: it takes us away from “the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour”, he said, and “brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to its radiant core”.
We experience glimpses of this “radiant core” when we drink in company; by melting away the inhibitions that keep us Brits so buttoned up, drink allows us to get to know one another and to feel the warm glow of intimacy. This is one reason adolescents take to the bottle with such eagerness.