I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas….

(This blog has been hi-jacked. This is not Lis in Asturias!)

I have sat down a number of times over the last fortnight to write about a sustainable Christmas with children. Straight-forward, I thought.

It is not.

There is potential to sound like a really ungrateful, privileged, preachy kill-joy, and so I apologise profusely in advance. (It is also not easy writing anything with young children, so please go easy on me).

Like many children, Christmas forms an immensely exciting period in my little ones’ calendar. Children and Christmas is a magical combination. Plus, to be honest, we could maybe all do with a bit of Christmas cheer this year, couldn’t we? In this strange and difficult time, the idea of coming together, reaching out to loved ones and neighbours, and spreading a bit of happiness is a wonderful thing.

Yet, each year, a gnawing sense of unease grows and grows in my stomach. I don’t know if the consumption is worsening over time, or I have grown more aware of it; as we continually try to make other areas of family life more sustainable, and the environmental crisis becomes more startlingly evident. Christmas feels like an unstoppable wave of consumption, shiny plastic and waste. So far from the point.

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Lichen…because lichen’s pretty cool. Plus better for Rudolf’s digestion than glitter.

In the non-Covid Christmas run-up there’s a stream of parties, fairs, concerts, Christmas dinners and Santas distributing presents. That’s without more recent “traditions” of advent present calendars, lights being turned on, glittery oats for reindeer, elves on shelves, Black Friday and Christmas Eve boxes. Then the day itself, and a mountain of presents. It feels like a marathon of overexcited, sugar-filled, tired and over-whelmed children; and so much stuff. I breathe a sigh of relief when we get to January. There have been Christmases in the past where the aftermath of bin bags full of packaging and wrapping has made me feel sick, and the pile of presents has been more than my children could need in a lifetime (not to mention no room to store it). It has also resulted in some undesirable behaviour and attitudes that I am desperate not to encourage.

Ok, before I go further. I realise this sounds incredibly ungrateful. I am not. My children are RIDICULOUSLY lucky to have so many wonderful people in their lives who love, and want to spoil them. I also appreciate that too much fun and too many presents is hardly a “problem”, when so many people suffer true hardship. This topic is tricky to navigate, but all the more reason to try and create balance.

My own favourite Christmas memories involve things like Christmas baking with my Mum, choosing a tree with Dad, seeing extended family, playing board games, Christmas carols, nativities and yummy food. Yes, of course I was excited about presents, but I can hand on heart say that a bigger pile wouldn’t have made Christmases any more special, and I think the same applies to my children.

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The following are statistics for the Christmas period in the UK, found here: https://www.gwp.co.uk/guides/christmas-packaging-facts/

We generate about 3 million tonnes of extra waste over the Christmas period. We waste:

  • 125000 tonnes of plastic food wrapping
  • £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents (into landfill)
  • 8 million Christmas Trees
  • 500 tonnes of Christmas lights
  • 108 million rolls of wrapping paper (we use 227000 miles each year, an average of 4 rolls per household).
  • 40 million rolls of sticky tape
  • 54 million plates of food
  • 1 billion Christmas cards – the equivalent of 33 million trees

  • Two-thirds of people throw away part of the 10 million turkeys we buy
  • 7 out of 10 people admit over buying food
  • 14% of people bin their fake Christmas tree each year
  • We use 189 million batteries


Earth Overshoot Day fell on 22nd August this year. This is the day when humanity’s use of resources outstrips what Earth can replenish in a given year. We are well beyond this by Christmas.

Between April and September this year, the Trussell Trust website states they provided 1,239,399 emergency food parcels to people in the UK. 2,600 parcels daily for children for the first 6 months of the pandemic.

Microplastics seem to be everywhere.

We are seeing more bush fires, flooding and droughts – most likely a result of climate change, and some of the poorest communities are already suffering due to climate change (despite being the least contributors to the problem).

Irreplaceable ecosystems such as the Amazon are being burnt to grow soy and rear cattle, and rainforests in places like Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations – to feed our consumption (yes, this includes us in the UK). There are also plenty of incredibly sad environmental issues closer to home.


So. What to do? I haven’t got all the answers! We are most certainly not perfect, and any suggestions very much appreciated here, but these are some of the things we’ve tried so far:

First, I was worried about doing this: I talked to family members about maybe downsizing presents. Thankfully everyone seems to be understanding. I had moments of guilt where I worried I was being some overbearing Victorian character, depriving my children and potentially seeming like an ungrateful grouse to my family. Maybe we’d end up with NO presents under the tree. The children would cry. I’d have to explain that I’m actually the Grinch. In reality everyone understood in their own way, and happily, recent years have been far less overwhelming.

No competing – I don’t try to keep up and Santa doesn’t try to keep up with the most generous of gift givers.

Making gifts/cards. Now, I don’t have any photos of this. Crafty, bakey sessions in this house are nothing like those beautiful wholesome snaps you’ll find littering the internet. It. Is. Utter. Chaos. My children love it though. I think with time (I hope) the mess, the melt downs, and the oven not cooking things fast enough will be forgotten, and these are the moments we’ll look back at fondly. My children are always so proud of their creations, and so excited to give them to grandparents, cousins, friends etc. They look nothing like those arty online photos, but they are made with love.

Give to charity. We’re filling a shoe-box for Help Our Homeless Wales, plenty of local charities, foodbanks etc look for donations over Christmas.

Alternative advent calendar. I saw a lovely idea a while ago, where you write down an act of kindness to do each day – smile at someone, put a coin in a charity box, leave some seeds/a piece of apple for the birds etc.

Buy second-hand. Here, Father Christmas does his shopping in charity shops, local buy and sell/swap groups, and online auction sites. (Plus local food shops). No-one has filed a complaint. Once, a book arrived in a stocking (that was a second), it turned out that the cover had been put on upside down, so when biggest-littlie opened it, the pages were the wrong way up. After a moment of confusion, we hypothesized that maybe it was an elf playing a silly trick – this resulted in lots of giggles and the book thought no less of.

Buy second hand for other people’s children. Felt weird about this initially, but have established with a few like minded people that we are all happy with this (we had no problems receiving second hand toys/books etc at all, just felt uneasy about giving them).

Give time – last year my children’s gift from their cousins was a swimming trip with them. For my smallies as toddlers, a trip to the park, feeding ducks, or playing silly games with a loved one would be the best present ever!

Buy less but better – opt for more sustainable options.

Adults – many of the adults in my family have decided for a while that we won’t do presents, this really takes the pressure off. Previously we have tried things like a £5 limit and a secret santa between us.

Ahh, wouldn’t this be lovely? A Covid-free cuppa together.

Take part in community events, call in on neighbours, maybe bake them some mince pies. Sadly not a great year for this.

Nurture that cosy feeling, like the Danish hygge……wrap up warm and go outside to star gaze (if fortunate to live somewhere with no light pollution), or maybe go for a walk to spot Christmas lights, go for a wintery wander in the woods together – preferably with a warm flask, share a coffee with a loved one, dim the lights, cosy up under a blanket and drink hot chocolate. That kind of thing.

Decorations – we have some second hand wooden ones bought years ago. They will last us a lifetime, and if the Christmas “fashion” changes then so be it. We make a few things – mainly involves being creative with bits of hedge and lots of paper snipping. Paper chains are fun if you can track some down.

Old-school snowflakes

Odds and ends. We don’t do crackers etc. Wrapping – I hoard last years’ wrapping to reuse and any bits of tissue paper that make their way into our house. If necessary, plain brown paper is effective, economical and can be composted at the end of it’s life – sadly haven’t seen any recently not sold in cellophane. If you scrunch up paper and it unfurls by itself then it can’t be recycled, glitter is actually evil plastic micro particles – I avoid like the plague. Paper tape is great. Old cards make good tags.

We eat local, sustainably produced food, don’t over-buy and waste nothing.

Continue watching other areas of life – electricity use, heating, etc.

So, there we go. We are not perfect, but I hope we can find a balance. A balance between keeping Christmas magic alive for little imaginations, but also eliminating a lot of consumption and destruction. Hopefully with more meaning, kindness and love along the way.

Nothing to do with Christmas. Here’s a relaxing Autumn picture to finish.

Cool Yule #2: let’s keep it simple

Traditions can be lovely things. Coming from the Latin tradere meaning ‘to deliver,’ there is something very comforting and fundamentally human about the idea of activities and customs being shared and passed down through generations; a gift of history, if you like. They give us a sense of continuity, familiarity and of who we are, a cherished sense of belonging within a family, community, nation, language or faith. Christmas, of course, is packed with tradition and I understand completely the excitement and anticipation of, for example, tasting that first mince pie or decorating a tree with bright-eyed young children. They are very special moments indeed.

However, the Latin tradere also means ‘to betray’ and I think it is a useful reminder that there are two sides to every coin; traditions are great but they shouldn’t be allowed to morph into tyranny. After all, just because something is ‘traditional’ doesn’t necessarily mean it is good or right. They are not set in stone, either. Like everything else in life, traditions change: turkey has only became popular for the UK Christmas meal since the 1950s (it was goose and game previously); mincemeat, that sweet confection of dried fruit and spices, was just what its name suggests ~ meat; carols were dances; Christmas trees were lit with candles; in northern climes, holly was the red plant material of choice, now it’s poinsettias, those ubiquitous South American hothouse pot plants (which are an environmental disaster all of their own, but that’s another story!).

For me, it’s still holly every time.

I am willing to put my hand up and admit that during my lifetime, I have been part of what has led to the current climate crisis. I can’t undo the damage that I have caused, but through changing my attitude and lifestyle and committing to a simpler and more sustainable approach, I hope at least to do some good for the future. Where Christmas is concerned, the same story applies. Yes, we had the ‘big’ Christmases; we always grew our own vegetables (and eventually, trees), did home baking, made decorations and tried to create homemade gifts that were personal and meaningful . . . but, there were still the piles of presents, the shiny wrapping paper, plastic tape and ribbon, the mountain of cards to write and send, the crackers and party poppers, the special tablecloths, the extra food bought in and a whole host of other things that, quite honestly, just weren’t necessary but we did them anyway.

Local greenery and pine cones ~ a simple, natural decoration.

Now things are very different and on reflection, I think it’s refreshing and also perfectly acceptable to stand back and think about what Christmas truly means to us and how we can celebrate this in a personal way. It is okay to break with tradition and the perceived ‘right’ way of doing things, especially if it means a reduction in the stress that so many people feel, the unfettered consumerism and the negative impact on the planet. These days, Roger and I like to mark the festive season with a midwinter feast, in line with the old Yule which celebrated the return of the sun a few days after the solstice. We send messages to close family, enjoy a long walk in a wild place, bring in greenery, light homemade candles and cook a lovely meal together. That is it . . . and it’s blissful.

Homemade beeswax candle (and festive tablecloth!)

One of the pertinent statistics from the Mintel survey 2018 is that almost a fifth of Britons find Christmas stressful because they spend it with family members they don’t get on with. Where such time together genuinely brings comfort, enjoyment, happiness and relaxation in a loving affirmation of close bonds, then it is a blessing that money can’t buy. However, if it is a case of false hopes and expectations, forced jollity, resentment and tensions in a highly charged atmosphere, then who does that truly serve? In an earlier post, I wrote about kindness; Christmas is a time for compassion and charity but they really do need to start at home. Only through loving ourselves can we love others, the rest of humanity, life and the planet, so if sitting at someone else’s table in a paper crown or listening to cheesy songs or eating Brussels sprouts or going to social functions or battling round hot shops or whatever really don’t float your Christmas boat, then just say no. It is allowed.

Roger and I no longer send cards or exchange gifts, neither do we have a tree, tinsel or turkey. We don’t own Christmas jumpers, but we do get to share in the fun of some spectacular examples . . . 😃

God jul, Sam (and nisser friends)!

What interests me is how when I share the sort of Christmas we choose to have, so many people’s reaction immediately defaults to bah, humbug! Why? The point is, we are not miserable or mean or tight-fisted, neither is our celebration of the season boring, sad or empty. Quite the opposite in fact: by paring back all the unnecessary stuff, our Christmas has become so much more meaningful. Simple, stress-free and kind to the planet. I like that very much.

Goodbye shiny paper and plastic tape: plain brown wrapping paper folded and tied with a homemade decoration is more personal and can be re-used.

Our simple Christmas doesn’t mean we forget family and friends either, we just do things a little differently. Instead of sending gifts, we agree to have a lovely time whenever we can next get together – perhaps go for a meal somewhere or a trip out for a walk or picnic, or simply enjoy each other’s company preparing and sharing food (we’re a very foodie bunch!) then playing games. It’s a lovely way to spend time together without all the added pressure and stress the festive season tends to bring. I do try to put a special gift in the post for the littlies, homemade and quirky but always something that has been made with a lot of love.

Mini stockings knitted from yarn scraps, ready to be stuffed with little chocolates and sent northwards.

For me, this is one of the beauties of doing things in a simpler, greener way, the chance to be creative without any pressure to produce or perform . . . and just to prove you can have a lot of fun, here is one of my favourite ideas. If you have a freezer (or a spell of arctic weather!), creating ice lanterns is a lovely thing to do; they are one of the most beautiful seasonal decorations and are ridiculously simple to make. Whilst traditional greenery and berries are an obvious choice for decoration, the only limit to creativity is imagination ~ it’s incredible how simple things are transformed when caught inside bright ice. The basic idea is to trap water between two freezerproof containers, stuff decorative bits into the gap and freeze to create an ice block with a central hollow for a tealight. For the demonstration photos in the following instructions I used a small plastic tub and spice pot as we are currently very short of freezer space, but for bigger versions like the one below, ice cream tubs and plastic mixing bowls are ideal; play around with shapes and sizes, there are no rules here!

To make an ice lantern you will need:

  • Two freezerproof containers, one small enough to sit inside the other with a good gap all round but large enough to hold a tealight
  • A jug of cold water; previously boiled and cooled water will give clearer ice
  • Small weights such as pebbles
  • Sticky tape (optional)
  • A poking implement such as spoon handle, knife, skewer or knitting needle
  • Decorative bits and pieces (in the lantern above I used holly leaves and berries, ivy leaves, mistletoe, sprigs of pine and rosemary, small pine cones and rosehips)

To make a lantern:

  • Place the small container inside the larger one and pour water around it, not quite to the top.
  • Place weights inside the smaller container to stop it floating completely; it needs to sit in the water but not on the bottom of the bigger container as it’s important to have a good thickness of ice on the lantern base. The trick is to weight it evenly so it doesn’t keel over!
I used a couple of pebbles and a shell as my weights.
  • With bigger containers, it can be easier to tape the edges of the smaller container to the rim of the bigger one to keep it central. Warning: I once followed instructions to use duct tape for this and spent several years subsequently trying to scrub sticky residue off a perfectly good mixing bowl! 😣
  • Gather your decorations together and sort through them, cleaning or trimming if necessary.
I foraged bits and pieces from our wood: green and brown ferns, ivy leaves, oak and chestnut leaves, Spanish heath sprigs and fallen eucalptus seed pods and holly berries.
  • Now for the fun bit! Push the decorations into the space between the two bowls, poking them down and arranging them with your tool if needed. Don’t panic if the smaller container starts wandering aimlessly off centre or the plant materials either sink or float in a clump. Have faith, this will work! What you should find is that as you add more stuff, it all settles down, the inner pot stays central and the decorations spread out. Don’t fret about organising them too much, random is good here.
I added a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden to pad things out a bit.
A reasonably transparent container allows you to check the levels of everything.
  • Very carefully, transfer the whole lot to a freezer (or similar place of extreme cold). If your freezer is anything like ours, you might need to jiggle things about a bit to ensure the container sits flat and upright. If things have moved about in transit, just gently push them back into place. Shut the door / lid and leave to freeze solid.
  • When you want to use the lantern, remove from the freezer and dunk the container in a bowl of hot water to release the ice from its mould. Gently pour a trickle of hot water into and around the outside of the smaller container to loosen it so you can pull it out.
  • If your lantern is very frosty, a quick ‘polish’ with warm water or your hand will soon have it sparkling.
  • Now pop in a tealight and you’re ready to go!
  • If using indoors, place the lantern on a shallow tray or similar to catch any ice melt. We tend to use ours outdoors (mulled wine and mince pies under the stars, anyone?) so we just plonk them down on a slate on our picnic table, a flat stone, tree stump or on the ground.

These lanterns last an amazingly long time, even in warm environments, so it’s perfectly possible to remove the tealight and put them back in the freezer for further uses. When you’ve finished with your lantern, leave it in a bucket or bowl to melt (essential if you have used non-natural decorations as they will need to be fished out and rescued / disposed of ) or just put on the ground outside or directly onto a compost heap.

By the way, this is a lovely idea to use with children, especially during a spell of really cold weather. Let them collect ‘found’ natural objects like leaves, flowers, seed pods, twigs, empty shells, feathers and so on, then freeze in small containers ~ yogurt pots are ideal. If you drape a loop of string into the water before freezing, the resulting ‘ice art’ can be hung up outside and admired. It’s a brilliant home-ed activity, there is so much science, discovery and creativity involved and it’s fascinating to watch as the creations slowly melt away. If you include a few unsalted nuts and seeds in the mix, the birds will be happy to feast on the leftovers once they’ve dropped.

So, to anyone who finds the usual trappings and traditions expensive, stressful or questionable, then I say, be the change! Drop those things that do not serve you and embrace, foster and enjoy the things that do; make Christmas your own, and let the resulting peace and joy ripple outwards to others. For many people, Christmas is a cold, lonely and miserable time because of circumstances beyond their control; instead of stressing ourselves over choice of presents or stuffing a turkey, perhaps we could be asking what we can do together that costs little or nothing and helps us to reach out and to strengthen our relationships with others and nature? Simple. Possible. Powerful. (And yes, of course you can still wear your crazy jumper! 🥰)

Autumn bliss

I’ve just come to the end of my 30-day yoga programme and, at the risk of sounding a bit self-congratulatory, I have to say I’m feeling pretty chuffed. This is the first time I’ve ever managed to find the discipline and motivation to follow a programme to the letter and to finish it in the allotted time, so it feels like quite an achievement. It has been a challenge and I won’t pretend that there weren’t days when I’d have preferred to leave my yoga mat well and truly rolled, but I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m certainly feeling stronger and more flexible as a result. I’m planning to start another 30-day programme soon, but in the meantime, I’m dipping in and out of the Yoga With Adriene November calendar of daily practices several times a week. It’s so good to stretch!

Something I’ve noticed as I’ve worked my way through the thirty days is an increasing desire to get out and have a good walk straight after breakfast. I’m not sure whether it’s some kind of subconscious balancing response to the afternoon yoga practice, the effect of the beautiful weather or just a natural call to revel in the season, but it’s something I’m enjoying immensely. How can I ignore the pull of these gorgeous mornings? It would be rude not to make the most of them!

There is a magical air to the woods at present. Without so much as a breath of wind, the leaves are taking their time on their final journey, falling softly and unhurriedly in an autumnal spectrum of bright fire. Visually, it is very beautiful, but it’s the sound that has captured my imagination, the dry patter and whisper of a thousand leaves spiralling, floating or tumbling downwards through the dwindling canopy like gentle snowflakes. It is nature’s music, this crisp, tinkling timpani. I am mesmerised.

I love the way, too, that everything is opening up to let in light and space. The skeletons of trees are emerging; hidden for many months by the lush green canvas of summer, now trunk and branch take centre stage. The birch stand ramrod straight, a few hazy clouds of leaves clinging on in the topmost branches.

The chestnuts have no such discipline; they are true contortionists, metallic limbs bent and twisted at crazy angles. I am reminded of some of the more challenging yoga postures from recent practices!

Despite the lazy pace of leaf fall, I am struck at how quickly the evergreens have become prominent, the vining ivies and brooding hollies now moving to take possession of the season as is their right.

They are a long way from dominating, though; the leaves might be drifting downwards but the landscape still has a fullness to it, albeit it one that has been touched with the wide sweep of autumn’s paintbrush.

As the canopy thins, the abundant birdlife becomes more apparent, too; of course, they have been there all summer but now the trees are alive with the busyness of birds and it is a pleasure to reacquaint myself with them. Family flocks of long-tailed tits with their energetic acrobatics and incessant chatter; the vocal bullfinches with their flamboyant flash of deep pink; a myriad tiny characters – goldcrests, firecrests, assorted warblers – so busy in the highest branches; silent treecreepers scurrying up trunks like scuttling mice; shy crested tits, their perky feathered mohicans making me smile every time. What a precious thing it is to spend moments like this with nature. I lose all track of time, completely absorbed in my surroundings; for me, it is the very best kind of meditation.

I’ve written before about how I love a bit of peace and solitude and these morning walks are giving me those things; I carry the obligatory mask with me ‘just in case’ but it’s a privilege to be able to wander without any social distancing worries, to stride out or saunter, to breathe deeply, to relax, simply to be. It wouldn’t be right to claim I’ve never met met another soul, however; there is someone I see often, an early bird long-distance runner. Mad man. Wonder who he can be? 😉

Despite this prevailing sense of autumn, the spring flowers in the verges are having a second wind, as they always do at this time of year. There is no great abundance, but still plenty of forage for hungry insects in the colourful dabs and spots amongst the leaf litter. There is knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace, St John’s wort, red clover, Three Birds Flying, granny’s bonnets, honeysuckle, hawkbit and scabious and even a beautiful patch of violets just up the lane from our house.

As in the wild, so in the garden. I love the way the calendula now sweep through the patch in sunny clumps after their summer rest. They are irrepressible: I’m harvesting the petals to dry for herbal teas and for every bloom I pick, two more spring up the next day. They will continue like this all through winter now.

On the subject of marigolds, the single French marigold plant that has taken so long to do anything much is now in its full glory. I feel I ought to be collecting and drying the flowers as a dyestuff but they are making such a bold splash of colour and are so full of bumble bees that I don’t have the heart.

Another little beauty is the oca, a brand new vegetable adventure for us this year and one that has proved interesting to follow. The plants are showing no signs of dying back yet ~ they are flourishing, in fact ~ and the dainty blooms are receiving the constant attention of bees and butterflies alike.

The roses and geraniums are still going strong in bold splashes of colour, the gorgeously fragrant peacock lily has started to flower, the honeysuckle shows no signs of giving up, the verbena bonariensis is having yet another go and as for the nasturtiums? Well, they are trailing through every nook and cranny and cascading in bright waterfalls wherever they have the chance.

Athough citrus trees blossom and fruit all year round here, the main harvesting season is about to begin. The first tantalising fruits on our young orange tree are still green, but there is a gradual and subtle change to their hue which promises great things to follow.

The kiwis have started their marathon season and are bringing a juicy sweetness to our palate in place of the figs which have well and truly finished now. The tracery of the almost bare branches and the last few leaves of the fig tree caught against the bluest of skies sums up the season perfectly for me. Ah, autumn. Bliss. 😊

Cool Yule #1: let’s be kind

Christmas. Mmm. Generally, I wouldn’t even be thinking about it at this time of year, let alone writing a blog post, but this is all part of the change and challenge coming from the 50 Shades of Greenish project I wrote about last time. It’s giving me a prod out of my comfort zone and also encouraging me to look at life from other people’s perspective and that is a very good thing; when Sarah pointed out that many people are indeed thinking about Christmas right now, making this the best time to start sharing our thoughts and ideas, I could see she was completely right. So, here goes . . .

I’m going to jump right in with a few statistics to ponder (sources are hyperlinked):

  • In the UK in 2019, people on average were expected to spend £727 each on Christmas, including food, drinks, decorations and presents; that equated to nearly two weeks’ pay on an average UK income of £29,588.
  • The biggest expenditure ~ £363 ~ was on presents.
  • In 2014, Ebay forecast that consumers would have spent £495 million on unwanted presents (equivalent to £32.13 per person); the previous year had seen over 100,000 items listed on Boxing Day.
  • According to respectfood.com, approximately 7 million tonnes of food is wasted at Chritmas in the UK, including 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and74 million mince pies, all of which are still edible when thrown away.
  • A 2016 poll found that only 22% of Britons celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.

So, perhaps I’m not understanding this properly, but as a nation it seems we spend money (which many of us haven’t got) on presents that aren’t appreciated and food that isn’t eaten to celebrate something we don’t believe in. Um, why? Please don’t get me wrong. First, I’m not picking on the UK: it’s by no means alone in this, simply the culture I know best. I am not going to get all Scroogified, either; I’m happy to admit that I am not exactly the world’s number one Christmas fan but I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone they can’t celebrate. After all, in northern European countries where winters are long, dark and cold, bringing light and warmth into the home and coming together to share food, drink and merriment within a family or community have been natural responses to the darkest time of year for millennia. In the 2016 poll cited above, 91% of British people said they celebrate some sort of Christmas, 76% considered spending time with family the most important part and 63% enjoyed the giving of gifts to loved ones. Many of the seasonal traditions, whether religious or not, are truly beautiful. There’s a lot of lovely, positive stuff going on here.

If you sense that I’m climbing up onto my green-wrapped eco-warrior soapbox, please bear with me a bit longer. Yes, of course, this is a plea to think green, to walk away from excessive consumerism and to do things more simply and sustainably . . . but there’s far more to it than that. As described previously, I’m currently studying permaculture and I’m particularly interested in how the principles can be applied holistically to all aspects of life, not just food production (as I said, please stick with me 🙂 ). It revolves around three ethics which are usually expressed as People Care, Earth Care and Fair Share; they are interconnected and overlapping, the idea being that each one helps to support the other two. People Care is essential, not selfish: if we can’t look after ourselves and the well-being of others, then there’s not much hope for caring for the planet, either, and it’s this concept of promoting care, welfare and yes, love, that sprung to mind when reading the results of a Mintel survey from December 2018. How can it be right that 36% of UK adults feel stressed by Christmas, and in particular at the cost of buying presents? What a terrible thing it is when what should surely be the best meal of the whole year creates further stresses and results in such waste. How sad that Boxing Day, that traditional time of walks and sports and turkey sandwiches now sees a large part of the nation spending their day returning or selling unwanted gifts online. What on earth are we doing to ourselves and each other? This isn’t People Care . . . and it doesn’t have to be like this.

It’s been a strange and terrible year, bringing illness, hardship and fear as well as financial difficulties and emotional turmoil to many, many people across the world. I can understand that Christmas ~ whatever that might mean or prove to be in the light of restricted socialising and the like ~ may well now be the focus of hope and positive thinking but, at the risk of sticking my neck out, I’d like to suggest that going even more overboard than usual in the pursuit of ‘stuff’ is not the answer. Let’s simplify things. Let’s concentrate on what’s really important. More than anything else, let’s be kind to ourselves and others. Kindness costs nothing and we all have it in buckets ~ honestly, we do. It takes very little effort to share it but the effects can be huge, like the famous butterfly wings of chaos theory.

If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment. Choose a day when you know you will come into contact with people you don’t know (that’s the really important bit), whether physically in a shop or business premises, medical centre, school or community building, or at the end of a telephone, video call or email. At the end of your transaction or communication with someone say, “I hope you have a very happy day!” Not have a good day or enjoy your day because those phrases tend to be trotted out glibly a lot of the time; say it meaningfully, to show you really do care, and smile if you can see them. Now obviously, there may well be some folk who simply think you’re slightly unhinged, but that’s all part of the big adventure! From the vast majority, though ~ and I speak from experience ~ the response will be immediate and lovely; the truly wonderful thing is that not only are you likely to get something heartwarming back, but people who have been shown small gestures of kindness tend to pass them on. Try wrapping that and putting it under a tree.

Ancient midwinter festivals celebrated the passing of the solstice and the rebirth of the Sun, a promise that spring would return and there would be another seedtime, another harvest. The Christian festival that largely replaced older ways gave thanks for the birth of a Son and the hope it brought for peace on earth and the salvation of mankind. However we may feel about them and whatever our religious (or non-religious) convictions, both offer great comfort and optimism for life and humanity; both encompass love and kindness, sharing and giving in simple yet meaningful ways. Perhaps there are lessons for us all here, if we turn our backs on the stress and the debts and the waste and instead opt for fun and laughter, help, support, companionship, rest and loving kindness . . . and that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the turkey or tinsel (of which, more next time).

In Cool Yule #2, I shall start to share the ways in which Roger and I celebrate the festive season and how that has changed greatly over our years together; I also know that the rest of the 50 Shades of Greenish gang have masses of great ideas for enjoying a simply green but amazing Christmas with young children to share both here and on Facebook in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the beauty of the season here in Asturias, amongst other things, some truly stunning sunsets . . . and of course, whoever and wherever you are, I hope you have a very, very happy day! 🙂

50 shades of greenish

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

I am generally an optimist by nature. I much prefer to practise abundance living ~ celebrating all that I have ~ than following a scarcity mindset focusing on things that I lack; I would plump for gratitude over greed every time. I’m not saying for one moment that I live my life in permanent Pollyanna mode (heaven forbid!) but at times it’s all too easy to be dragged down by negativity and discomfort and so lose sight of the good, positive and hopeful aspects of a given situation. Take, for instance, our plan to go for a beach run and picnic one morning this week; it seemed like a brilliant idea, especially as we arrived there in 21 degrees of warm sunshine and the beach was completely empty. Withing twenty minutes, the rain forecast for much later in the afternoon had rolled in on the back of a howling gale and the temperature had dropped to 12 degrees. Yuk. Nothing daunted, Brave Sir Roger went powering off down the full four kilometres of sand in his indomitable style whilst I decided to run lengths up and down the same kilometre so as not to end up too far from the car; sitting in the dry and nursing a flask of hot coffee suddenly seemed like a much more comfortable (and sensible) thing to be doing!

Within seconds, I was soaked to the skin; the rain was coming at me horizontally like sharp needles and my shins were totally sand-blasted. Running into the wind was a nightmare, I felt like I was going backwards much of the time and with my trainers soaking up water like a sponge, my feet were literally squelching through every step. It was cold and wet and very, very horrible . . . and yet it was wonderful, too. Wonderful to be in such a beautiful wild place, wonderful to be able to move and stretch my body, wonderful to feel the gift of rain on my skin, to feel alive and laugh at my crazy, crazy self.

I ended my previous post sharing my hope of leaving a beautiful and thriving planet for my descendants to enjoy and in this, I must confess, I sometimes struggle to maintain a positive outlook. I am a passionate eco-warrior and I refuse to give up or be beaten, but sometimes looking at the current state of the world, it’s hard to be totally optimistic. Thankfully, I can find great encouragement and inspiration from a wide variety of other people; WordPress blogs, for example, are a great forum for this! For some time now, I have shared a private chat group with our two lovely daughters, Sarah and Vicky, and it has proved to be a valuable and positive support mechanism; we can share tips, bounce ideas off one another, post useful articles, links and photos, discuss our successes and failures, laugh, cry, rant and rave. We are three very different personalities but we are united in our common goals to live simply and sustainably, tread lightly on the earth and do everything in our power to secure a viable, vibrant and regenerative future for all life on the planet. We are also women of action rather than navel gazers so we have decided the time has come to join together, go forth and DO something!

From tiny acorns . . . Sarah and Vicky exploring the natural world with the help of little brother Sam. France, 1995.

Our plan is a very simple one: to share our ideas and activities with a wider audience using this blog and a Facebook page called 50 Shades of Greenish in the first instance (I have to say at this point, I’m not the world’s greatest social media fan but I also acknowledge the power of outreach using these platforms). Our main aim is to inspire and encourage. We don’t want to preach: why would we? There’s nothing worse than being told how you should be living your life by someone who thinks they know best. We don’t profess to be experts, either; we are still very much travellers on a journey, taking the road one step at a time and learning as we go. It’s not a new idea, of course; there are many, many people out there doing the same thing completely brilliantly but we see no harm in adding our own voices to the cause. After all, we’re not trying to sell anything and this isn’t a competition. We’re three small drops in the ocean but every drop helps, and whatever you might think about Greta Thunberg, she has proved to the world just how powerful even a single voice can be.

A new path and an exciting new journey for this particular drop in the ocean!

More than anything else, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the rich diversity of humankind and try to reach out to everyone and try to show how small, simple changes can make a huge difference. You don’t have to be a tree hugger or a vegetarian or live in a yurt; you don’t have to join a group or be on a committee or go on a protest march; you don’t have to own a bike or a garden fork or a sewing machine. Whilst there can be much value in all those things, what we want more than anything else is to try and challenge the belief that being ‘green’ instantly stuffs you into a pigeonhole. Growing our own organic vegetables is a wonderful thing to do and something all three of us enjoy immensely but it’s not for everyone and why should it be? If someone lacks the land, space, resources, time, skills, inclination, motivation or interest, then making them feel guilty or somehow inferior because they’re not picking their own kale or whatever is no way forward. Perhaps where urban life and culture predominate, the seeds of simple change are the most important ones to be sowing across the worldwide web of humanity.

It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see where this takes us. If by sharing our experiences and ideas we can inspire and encourage others, then that will be a very wonderful thing and – like the girls playing in the water – I’m hoping that our tiny drops will send bigger ripples ever outwards. Let’s build a community! Please come and join us, get involved, share ideas, tips, musings . . . the more, the merrier. We’d love to have your company along the way! 😊

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