Lucy Mangan is embracing a newer, more ethical Christmas this year.
I go pretty big on Christmas. I basically live like a medieval peasant the rest of the year (not by design, just through disorganisation and temperament, refusing to let myself buy or experience anything nice).
Christmas, I treat not just as a break from work but a break from being me. So I buy loads of presents – self-gifting plentifully along the way – wrap them in lovely new paper, pile up food and drink, buy a glittery frock I’ll never wear (it’s the adult equivalent of buying a new geometry set every September), fling armfuls of baubles, tinsel and whatever that lovely shredded silver stuff is called at a tree far too large for my tiny sitting room. All while eating and drinking lavishly from my own and anyone else’s festive victuals.
And I have loved every minute of it, unreservedly. But this year, I realise that the mood and the times have changed too much for even my once-a-year experiment in self-indulgence. We are being encouraged to think about our place in the world and our effects on the grand scheme of things – exhorted, quite rightly, to spend and consume less, and to make sure that whatever we do spend or consume is done as ethically and sustainably as possible.
More so than ever before, the presence and gravity of the climate crisis is being felt and understood. More so than ever before we are aware of the growing gulf between those of us who have more than enough and those who have far too little – the Equality Trust’s new research showing that the six richest people in the UK are worth as much as the poorest 13 million is the most recent stat to boggle the mind.
So, starting small, I’m making sure all my paper is recycled and foil-free so that it can be recycled again. It’s not like I didn’t try at all in years gone by, just that it wasn’t a rule. Now, it’s a rule. I know the rule should be wrapping things in cloths and scarves but I haven’t been able to wrap my own head around that yet. I’ve bought no new plastic baubles (homemade ones from craft fairs are OK, aren’t they?
They have to be. Even medieval peasants had them). I’ve hired a tree that will get replanted and looked after until it’s time to rent it again next year, and I’m following the reverse advent calendar in my supermarket, which asks for food, clothing, toiletries and treats for the local homeless charities and food banks serving some of those aforementioned 13 million. I’m staying away from Amazon (that is HARD), buying fewer presents and the ones I do buy are from places that do good (or at least as little harm as possible) to the environment, and thus us all.
And the thing is, once you lean into it – once you stop seeing it as an incursion on your right to annual extravagance and more as a challenge to be met (how minimal can I make my impact at every turn?), or a problem to be solved (how can I have a good time without making others pay?), drawing in your horns becomes as much fun as pushing the boat out.
Soon it becomes second nature. You realise you don’t miss filling the place or people’s stockings with plastic tat or overpriced, overwrapped chocolates, and pretty soon after that it starts to feel weird that you ever did and unconscionable you ever will again.
And that’s the beauty of small, practical changes, especially those made with collective support. They make other, larger ones seem possible. They create a mental shift that lasts far longer and affects far more decisions than the tiny seasonal ones that sparked it. And that’s the message we need this Christmas.