Even Queen Elizabeth has gotten depressed over the bad news of 1985 -- earthquakes and famine, riots, wars, terrorism and man's general inhumanity to man.
"Looking at the morning newspapers, listening to the radio and watching television," she tells her subjects in this year's royal Christmas message to the Commonwealth, "it's only too easy to conclude that nothing is going right in the world."
The Christmas Day broadcast, beamed around the world from London to such faraway former colonies as Belize, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, is one of the more reassuring remnants of the British Empire. While there is no telling what effect it has on the more remote reaches of her voice, Britons here will interrupt their holiday revels on Wednesday afternoon to tune in the soothing words of their monarch.
Lest the year pass with no good news at all, the queen has some to offer them. Sitting behind her Buckingham Palace desk for the pre-taped broadcast, she will provide examples of good deeds by people who "don't blow their own horns," from the two Welsh firemen who risked their lives to save others, to the selfless Birmingham doctor who worked for years in a deprived area, and even the small-business owners who boosted British exports by selling darts overseas.
"Christmas is a time of good news," the queen concludes. "I believe it is a time to look at the good things of life and to remember that there are a great many people trying to make the world a better place, even though their efforts may go unrecognized."
FOR MANY AMERICANS, Christmas in Britain evokes traditional images of choirs of young boys whose voices have not yet changed, snow-covered landscapes, stuffed goose and yule log fires. But much has changed in the land of Dickens.
This year, the famed choristers of King's College, Cambridge, offered their usual Christmas Eve presentation to millions of BBC listeners here and abroad, as they have done for the past 60 years. But overall, it has been a time of mixed blessings for Britain's "choir schools."
Some of the special, cathedral-attached boarding institutions where talented boys go to study and sing have run out of money and been forced to close, the victims of a decline in churchgoing and limited parish resources.
In response, some of the choirs have turned to commercial ventures, including the money-making recordings of top choirboys such as Aled Jones and Paul Miles-Kingston. This year, a joint production by former Beatle Paul McCartney and the St. Paul's Cathedral choristers, singing under the pseudonym of "Rupert and the Frogs," made it to number three in the national top 20.
As for snow, it never has been particularly plentiful in this rainy clime, and this year is worse than ever. Having experienced one of the wettest and coldest summers on record, Britain is now enjoying one of the warmest winters of this century. The temperature has hardly dropped below 40 degrees so far, and on most days hovers in the high fifties. The Christmas Day forecast is for tepid rain.
THE TRADITIONAL Christmas goose long ago took second place to the cheaper and more meaty stuffed turkey.
As for yule logs, Londoners, at least, have been forbidden to burn wood or even coal in their fireplaces under post-World War II laws designed to clear away the traditional, smoky London fog.
Some traditions remain, however. Mince pies and Christmas pudding grace most tables, along with the customary "Christmas cracker" set beside each place.
The cracker is a decorated, cardboard tube with crepe-paper ends that are grasped and pulled by two persons, like a wish-bone. A loud "crack" is emitted as the tube breaks open, revealing a small prize (such as a plastic whistle or key chain), a piece of paper printed with a saying or joke (Q: Why does Father Christmas wear a red suit? A: Because his blue one is in the wash!) and a colored paper hat. Diners are expected to wear their hats during the meal and for the rest of the day.
CHRISTMAS and the day after, Boxing Day, make up a long holiday in Britain, with many workers being given the entire week off, stretching into the New Year. On Christmas Eve, stores close, along with virtually all public services from subways and trains to many newspapers and hospitals for all but emergency treatment.
But despite the long break, retailers can rest easy this year, having totaled their biggest profits ever in Christmas sales.
According to the Confederation of British Industry, holiday trade is up as much as 5 percent over last year, with some of the big department stores such as Selfridges and Debenhams showing even bigger increases.
Among the biggest sellers have been small appliances, home computers and, as always, toys. The toy retailers' association reports that the number one item is a stuffed item called "My Little Pony," followed closely by robot transformers and Care Bears, with the new British edition of Trivial Pursuit not far behind.
For those who sought more prestigious gifts, Carol Thatcher, journalist daughter of the prime minister, reported in the Daily Telegraph that the tiny souvenir kiosk at the House of Commons was doing a booming pre-Christmas business of about $30,000 a day. Waste-baskets, desk blotters and chocolate mints emblazoned with the portcullis that has been the Westminster symbol since the 16th century were among the hottest items.
The House of Commons Catering Committee, however, turned down proposals to sell T-shirts, underwear and sweatshirts.
"Far too common," said Conservative committee chairman Charles Irving. "We can't have half the nation going around with the portcullis emblazoned on their bosoms."