My adult novel FLASHBACK AND PURPLE ends at Christmas and my young eco-activist Ethan makes up new lyrics for the ubiquitous Slade hit:
Are you wasting earth’s resources having fun?/Are you jetting off for Christmas in the sun? /There’s a Santa pulled by dolphins To an island doomed to die/ So the wealth can eat turkey, booze and cry /So here it is, Marry Christmas, shame the party’s got to end/ There’ll be no future while we frack, grab and prete-e-end.
Because I’m in the Green Party I responded to a request from the local paper and came up with ‘how to have a greener Christmas’. The list of tips is at the end of this blog. It’ll be our fourth festive season as vegans but Leslie and I will be sending cards, from Campaign Against the Arms Trade and our local homeless charity, Dacorum Emergency Night Shelter (and food bank) – because with a combined age of 131 we have encountered so many people in our lives at different times that we remember with gratitude for what they meant to us. Some are far away and not online, and I find that with age the past gathers emotional weight that counts even as we face a disturbing future. So my compromise is to avoid all plastic or glitter insets while keeping a tradition I consider less damaging than most of the Christmas ‘package’. This year I’ve been more exercised than ever by the contradictions of the season of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ – #StopArmingSaudi, for Yemen’s sake – and I’m certainly not alone.
As a grandma I smile to imagine the happiness of young children at Christmas, and of parents savouring that joy as a young family. I wrote my Christmas book, ALIENS AND ANGELS, to make such families smile – and yes, to touch them, not with mawkish sentiment but with values we should hold dear all year round. Robbie, who wants to be an angel, doesn’t quite fit society’s expectations of boys his age, but he learns that he CAN, metaphorically, fly. Greta’s sadness at Christmas is lifted by imagination – or magic – and by caring for something small and vulnerable in Bootee the lamb. Trouble the donkey, who won’t do anything without a carrot as reward or bribe, learns to love. These are gentle stories with gentle humour. They don’t reflect the consumerism or excess of Christmas but the warmth that sometimes seems to be ‘in the air’ – a generosity and acceptance of our fellow humans that makes us, in a self-obsessed media age, less selfish and more giving. You probably feel a BUT coming…
As #ExtinctionRebellion tells us, it’s time for change. Time, in fact, according to climate scientists, is running out. And my mother, whose carbon footprint is tiny because she doesn’t need things and often donated my carefully chosen presents to the Oxfam shop, was right all along. As humans in the richer West we have too much already, and it all costs ‘the Earth’. I hope fewer shoppers will buy gifts involving single-use plastic, and that more of us look for alternatives to the plastic scourge, alternatives that are compostable – because recycling in the UK has been shown to be largely a sham. I hope that despair about the world won’t lead us deeper into hedonistic self-indulgence, and that more of us are donating to our local foodbank than planning a three-day binge of sugar, fat and booze. I hope that low morale about climate change and Brexit won’t make us pricklier and more inclined to hurt those closest to us as we spend time together. As we cut waste along with our dependency on fossil fuels to live more simply, reusing rather than chucking more and more in the recycling, changing our habits as shoppers and travellers, it’s our relationships that will sustain us. After all, change is motivated by love – of our children and grandchildren and those unborn. Change isn’t sacrifice but a gift. And we all know the joy of giving to those we love something they really value, something that recognises who they are and enriches their living. Our focus now must be on the gift of a future on an Earth that can still sustain life in spite of the damage we have done with our exploitative consumption, our war-making and our bully-boy domination – and destruction – of other species.
I write mainly about love. Love is at the heart of the most powerful fiction. The word felt more powerful than any other as Extinction Rebellion was launched in Parliament Square. And love – as motivation and ACTION – can save us.
How to make a greener Christmas? Well, some of the most important ways are applicable 365 days a year: reduce/avoid meat and dairy, shun single-use plastic, and don’t fly unless you really must. Some of us have to drive to family at a time when public transport isn’t an option. But there are plenty of ways to cut your carbon footprint this Christmas, and as with all low-carbon alternatives, it’s important to celebrate what they bring to your life – not sacrifice but hope.
1. Buy less. Love has no price tag. Use charity shops, or choose a gift by a local creative or small business.
2. Choose toys that aren’t plastic or operated by battery. Discarded batteries are an environmental hazard. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually. We all know that kids are imaginative and love to make a world out of junk, so don’t be a slave to the latest craze. See The Green Parent for ideas.
3. Creative yourself? Decorate your own brown paper instead of wrap, or use newspaper.
4. Experiment with a vegan dinner/Christmas Eve/Boxing Day and surprise yourself and your guests with something less predictable.
5. Like candles? Choose pure soy over petroleum.
6. The Woodland Trust recommends that if you are buying a live tree, make sure it’s a native fir like a Caledonian Pine. Keep it in a large tub to bring in and out of the house each year until it gets too heavy, then either plant it in your garden or offer it to your nearest nature reserve.
7. Friends of the Earth have some free e-cards. But if you value cards to post, avoid any that add glitter and plastic and buy from a charity you believe in, or make your own. Use last year’s cards to make gift tags.
8. Make paper chains out of cut-out strips of magazine or old Christmas cards; use foraged fir cones and real springs of holly as decorations.
9. Bake gingerbread cookies and hang them on the tree ready to eat any time.
10. Before you break for the holidays, raid your office recycling bin for scrap white paper. Help your children cut out pretty snowflake shapes to hang in the windows.
11. If you want fairy lights, use LED and save yourself a fortune in electricity bills.
12. Avoid excess food and drink. Celebrate without hangovers, bloating and nausea, and waste.
13. Choose creative or old-fashioned party games that depend on your imagination rather than a plastic-wrapped box of plastic. Have traditional or original fun.