Everyone loves Christmas don’t they? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the season. It’s a time of excess when no one does anything in half measures. Diets get thrown out of the window and we spend two weeks drowning in a mass of turkey, chocolate and mince pies, in a fizz-induced coma. We spend huge amounts of time with family that we spend the rest of the year avoiding, unless there’s a funeral. We buy enough food to survive an apocalypse even though the shops are only shut for one day. Somewhere amidst all the wrapping paper and tinsel is a message about goodwill to all Man and peace in our time. But no one can really be bothered with any of this when there’s the umpteenth repeat of Goldfinger on the television. The Christmas period is very much akin to when we go on a beach holiday. We spend time being busy doing nothing. We learn to veg out and recharge our batteries ready for a new year where there will be fresh hopes and expectations for all of two weeks.
Over the years I’ve had some great Christmases. I’ve always spoilt my children. On top of a massive pile of every toy they could possibly wish for, I always buy them a stocking complete with silly joke presents and a mountain of chocolate. Last year I bought a huge joint of lamb,(I can’t stand turkey) and a buffet of food from Marks and Spencer; the majority of which ended being thrown away, either as we didn’t have enough room in the fridge or simply because it went off before we could eat it. Not to mention the buckets of chocolate and the packets of mince pies. We still have the leftover bottles of Baileys, Champagne and sherry and we probably will still have them at the dawning of the next century.
Yet over the past few years there appears to have been an increased awareness of the harm we are doing to the environment with plastic. I read a great article recently from as far back as 2012 by George Monbiot entitled The Gift of Death, in which he argues that ‘pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice’ it. In which instead of buying someone a ridiculous piece of plastic in the form of a singing fish he argues that we should ‘Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.’ He’s right. He’s so right.
We’re only one humble family in the many millions in the UK or billions within the World. But I really feel that now is the time that we all started to make a stand and re-educate ourselves about how and what we should be spending at Christmas. It is also our duty as consumers to think about the moral consequences of where we spend our money.
When I used to teach in schools, I knew a parent who instead of buying her children the latest plastic piece of mass consumption at Christmas time used to buy them a trip abroad on a cruise. At the time, the children themselves felt that they were hard-done-to compared to all their friends who had the latest Barbie talking doll or Action Man. Yet now when the plastic items of Christmases past are in landfill, those children have their memories of seeing the World rather than playing with something for all of one day. I’m not saying that I am going to do this for my children, but it is worth thinking about. As a sort of compromise this year, I am going to buy only the things that are useful to my children in some way. My daughter loves baking so we may just get her a professional mixer. Rather than buy her a load of chocolate then I’m sure she’d prefer some electronic baking scales.
For the past few years I have stopped buying and sending cards. I just think that it is a huge waste of money and time when I could spend that money giving it directly to a charity instead. We live in an age of electronic mail. I know it is lovely to see a hand-written card but what is the point of sending something, when it is more meaningful to visit that person and wish them a pleasant festive season in person? My Dad always buys me a card but I spend all of Christmas with him, so why does he need to send me a card to wish me a happy Christmas? Christmas crackers are another example of pointless waste. How long do any of the jokes and paper hats last? What about the gifts? How often do you use that pair of plastic fangs you received in a Tesco Value Christmas cracker in 1999?
I’m sat here now writing and next to me there are two piles of about fifty books waiting to be read. I open my drawers and they are bursting at the seams with clothes that I have yet to wear. My dressing table has bottle after bottle of perfume and pots of make-up. I have a tin of seven lipsticks that I have never touched. There is a wardrobe full of dresses that have never been worn. I really do not need anything else. So in a bid to start living with less and stop buying things that serve no real purpose I have started to sell off items on E-Bay. There’s quite a large reseller community out there and they are all desperate to give you advice. All it takes is a little organisation and you are away. I’ve sold quite a few dresses, many of which still had the label on. What’s the point in keeping a dress that I bought in 2013 that I have never worn?
These are meant to be austere times and yet you would never know it from the mass marketing of consumerism that takes place in the expensively-produced adverts that are shown in the build up to Christmas. Do you really need to buy a brand new Christmas tree and ornaments simply because the colour ‘biscuit’ is now in vogue? Last year we bought a living tree that has been happily growing in a pot in our garden since January and which we’ll be bringing inside this year for all of two weeks. People end up getting themselves into debt because they feel that they must buy the latest examples of affluence and acceptance. Advent calendars used to be a cardboard picture of the nativity and the windows would be opened to reveal a new symbol of the birth of Christ. Now you can get wine, beer, beauty products and even pork scratchings. Christmas has gone from a short season into an entire month of festivities, fuelled by consumerism.
I’m not trying to be Ebenezer Scrooge and dictate that all Christmas is a humbug. Far from it. As I said at the beginning, I love it. However, this year I am going to be more mindful of my impact on the planet as well as being conscious of not wasting anything and only buying what I truly need. Christmas is a season of goodwill, telling your loved ones that they matter, trying to be kind and generous of heart not wallet. It really doesn’t require you to take out a small mortgage just to show how you feel. I remember growing up in the seventies with very little money. My presents were often very modest such as a repainted bike or a new set of slippers and a Bunty annual. I remember being bought a digital watch with three functions on it. I thought it was the most wonderful piece of technology ever. It certainly didn’t take away the meaning of Christmas, that I never received a Rubix cube or we didn’t have ten tins of Quality Street.
I’ll let you know how we get on in January with our ‘mindful’ Christmas. But in the meantime, if anyone wants to buy a plastic Darth Vader talking light that doubles as a money box and a drinks machine and has its own detachable light sabre, then do let me know. I’m open to any offers.