This is not the blog post I was going to write. There was going to be a list of ways to make Christmas more eco-friendly and simple. But suddenly I didn’t want to write about that any more. There are many fantastic blogs and ideas online if you search, and of course, I think any way we can look at excess is a good thing.
I just don’t really want to write about extra “to-do’s” that potentially add to the overwhelm of Christmas. Is the present you picked for your loved one Ethically-Sourced-Locally-Crafted-Handmade-by-Pixies-Plastic-Free-Zero-Waste-Carbon-Neutral-Upcycled-Goodness? No? Why on earth not you planet destroyer you? Ah, is it because we live in a society that places consumerism above all else, combined with busyness, parent guilt and very easy clickable next day deliveries? How very dare you.
In some ways, Christmas is like a microcosm of the questionable human activity that has led to us to planetary climate crisis we are in (pop that on your Christmas jumper) . We have been wound up into busy little mice running around with lists upon lists upon lists.
What drives us into brightly lit, badly soundtracked shopping centres at this time of year anyway? What makes us start to hoard crackers and chocolates from September to “spread the cost” of Christmas? Of course, there is a real push against a lot of this these days. We are suddenly all too aware of the effects of our excess consumption on the planet. But the push and pull of opposing messages can be stressful and guilt-inducing. Naturally, the answers to why we behave like we do at Christmas are incredibly complex, based on things like how much we think we have/don’t have the rest of year, feelings of happiness and connection, feelings of scarcity, feelings based around family dynamics and so very much more. But the bit I am really interested in, are the feelings around tradition.
Tradition is such a loaded concept, and one that often gets us feeling prickly and protective along with feeling safe and connected. But I do think we often forget to look back very far to see where these “traditions” were first forged, and how quickly they become what we think we are supposed to do every year.
Traditions are great, they anchor us to ourselves and each other. But traditions are also just stories, made up by people. The current Christmas festival is a tangled web of Pagan, Christian and Capitalist stories. Surely we can re-write them without uprooting ourselves and without re-writing the history they tie us to? We live in chaotic times, and in such times, traditions can provide us with an anchor. But lets make the stories ours, and not an ad companies. Put our own families happiness at the centre of them.
I started writing about this after chatting to various customers and friends, and seeing how differently everyone felt about Christmas celebrations. I loved some of things we chatted about so I asked a couple of them to write down their Christmas stories. So, instead of suggesting ways we an make christmas more eco-friendly, I just wanted to share these stories with you. We are all grown ups here and our situations are all different. Perhaps if we take a step back before rushing into the compulsions of christmas activities, we will realise that we do actually have control over what we buy/consume. And that will look different to everyone. So here are a couple of our customers stories, in their own words.
Several years ago, my family agreed not to purchase any presents for adults. Instead, we chose a charity and made a donation to it. A couple of years I’ve done the oxfam gift/donation thing. I REALLY want to pull back from the excesses of gifts to the kids too, but am finding that a lot harder. Mainly due to their expectations, though they are not particularly demanding, they just see the stuff that’s peddled to them via advertising etc. It’s a little bit easier with Jake now that he’s older. We can have more direct conversations with him and gift him more meaningfully. Molly, however, has a list for Santa as long as her arm. The list contains a lot of plastic/commercial tat that will hold her interest for maybe a couple of weeks! I would really like to know more about how others approach this issue.
I’m planning on hitting some local Christmas markets and craft fairs for some locally sourced gifts. For the first time EVER, I’m not sending Christmas cards and will encourage the kids to make their own if they want to send them to their friends at school. We have also opted away from food excesses too. I never buy into the masses of chocolates, treats and food for the sake of it, just “because it’s Christmas”. We have had several years of going for a curry at a local restaurant as our Christmas day meal, which means that I buy no more food than my weekly shop. We’ve also done a joacbos join approach before too, whereby everyone who is coming brings a bit of something for the table. Both of the above seem to reduce the amount of food waste.
The buybuybuy culture of capitalism and the waste that comes with Christmas has been increasingly difficult to stomach since we had kids, and we wanted to opt out! So, we have cancelled Christmas! We have made a family decision to shift our celebration away from Christmas to Yule and the Winter Solstice. As atheists, Christmas doesn’t hold any special meaning for us, whereas celebrating the natural world via the return of the sun and the cycle of the seasons really does resonate with us, the kids are excited about celebrating nature! We have talked about this with them quite a bit, and they love the idea.
We will decorate the house with greenery that we gather from walks locally, a yule tree, and lots of red and gold from mid December, but we will celebrate the Solstice on the 21st/22nd by waking up with the sunrise (lets hope for a clear day), giving a few presents and having a special meal (not turkey!). We will burn a decorated yule log and light some candles to represent the return of the light after the longest night on the solstice… we are hoping that this stuff will give us some new family traditions and make it feel special for the kids! There will be some gift-giving as part of yule is being thankful for the year that has passed and the people that have been part of that. We are going to be buying (quite a lot) less presents for the kids and for each other, and we are going to do as many handmade, hand-me-down and second hand presents as possible, and books of course – can’t go wrong with books!! We have asked our families to do the same for us/the kids, or to consider charity donations or funds towards experiences later in the year (for example, days out, theatre trips, towards holidays or for lessons for the kids e.g. swimming, music, dance). Another part of the Yule celebration is looking forward to the coming year and making plans, which would include days out/visits etc.
The one concession that we are making is that we are still going to put stockings out on the 24th Dec, as we understand that the Yule Fairy is working alongside Father Christmas to help him out. We have discussed the fact that Father Christmas used to be St Nicholas, and before than he was Odin and his 8 legged Reindeer (yes really)… they still subscribe to the magic of a gift giver who brings something to every child. I am hoping that the Yule Fairy will bring nature related things and treats to eat… we’ll see! So, there won’t be a huge difference in a lot of practical ways, and we won’t chuck anyone out for mentioning Christmas! But…. We won’t be sending Christmas cards or buying Christmas crackers! We are very lucky in that our families are very liberal and accepting, so they all love the idea so far, despite me worrying that it might be taken as a judgement of their traditions and approaches to Christmas! We will have to see what happens, but we are all very much looking forward to it, and to throwing out less food waste, single-use plastic packaging and un-recyclable wrapping materials (brown paper here I come!)
One of the main things I enjoyed talking to Erin about was the idea of “congruency”. Erin trained as a counsellor and we chatted about how the reason for her making some drastic changes to the way they celebrated the festive season was all to do with knowing how you want to live, but feeling forced to live differently. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, because I think that a lack of “congruency” with how I felt we should live, against how we actually live, was the anxiety-inducing agency that led to the development of this business in the first place.
I love having these conversations and am lucky that our customers will often indulge me when Im freaking out about WHY DO WE BUY SO MUCH SHIT AND BEHAVE LIKE WE DO?? When all they really wanted was some bloody potatoes and to know which ones are best for mashing.
But for me, it’s important and it’s why we love having a shop where we can chat to people face to face. Since starting out on our business journey, It has become overwhelmingly clear how much our mindset is tangled up with how we interact with our environment. If we feel overwhelmed, pressured and stressed, then ultimately we make foggy choices about ourselves and what and how we consume. And the world is certainly noisy and overwhelming these days. It feels like we have no choices, when we actually do.
So I’ve made a few choices this Christmas, the main one being that we will also be getting up early to have a walk on the day of the solstice, because celebrating the tangible seasonal shifts feels good. I would absolutely love to hear your own traditions, and whether you have decided to change them at all.
But before I sign off, I’ll just leave you with this bit of writing I stumbled on from Harpers Bazaar in 1904
“Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash.”
The feeling of overwhelm is not a new one folks.