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! 🙂