As the tills ring merrily on high this weekend, softly, in the distance, if you listen carefully, you may just catch the distant note of a Christmas carol. Today, tomorrow and right up to next Friday, the English will be paying their annual low-key obeisance to Christianity.
Three million of us will crowd into Church of England services for midnight mass or Christmas morning eucharist and at least as many again for the services of other denominations - three times the normal Sunday attendance. It may be only a fraction of the population and they may not darken a church's doors again for another year, but deep down some distant, ancient, folk memory stirs; even if, as some clergy say, they're asked not to make the services too Christian these days.
"Christmas is our huge opportunity," says Paul Timms, the dean's verger at Southwark Cathedral. "It's a time when people are positive. This is a sacred space and a beautiful building. If only they could bottle the atmosphere in here."
Indeed it is a beautiful building, despite being hemmed in between the commuter rail lines heading for London's Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations. Shakespeare knew this church and people have worshipped on this site since Saxon times.