I had a great visit this evening from Clodagh Murphy and Alison Moriarty from Sacred Heart Secondary school. They were interviewing me about our ‘cut-the-rubbish‘ project and are working on their own project to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the availability of single-use water bottles at their school. It was amazing to learn that instead of having water fountains near their canteen, the norm is to buy bottled water. Earlier this year I interviewed Grainne who started a petition to introduce a fee for disposable cutlery to encourage her school and students to provide/bring their own. Unfortunately, and although Grainne gathered about 100 signatures, her great idea to save single-use plastic from heading to landfill (as well as saving her school money) has not -yet- been implemented. I just can’t quite believe that things have ‘progressed’ this way, that we are inundated with such massive volumes of single-use plastics, a normalized part of daily life, when such simple waste-free solutions exist. This is of course not meant to be any kind of pointed attack on our own schools but I think glaring examples of what kind of systemic changes we are up against. (But hey perhaps one of our own schools could lead the way?)

We are preparing our festive plans with all of the above forever in the back of our minds by getting into a more old-fashioned approach to Christmas. I have already spent some time with my mother-in-law making the prized handed-down family recipe for our Christmas pudding and make the mince pies on Christmas Eve. We also have great fun in the days in the run up making our own Christmas crackers with toilet rolls, newspapers, homemade jokes, crowns and ‘found objects’ for prizes (anything from a shell to a re-gifted mini-slinky). We decorate the house with bits of holly and Christmas morning we find stockings filled comically with oranges, chestnuts and fermented homebrews. The last few years we made the ‘tree’ from trimmings of our own massive firs in the back garden arranged into a convincing tree-like shape. For me, a lot of the joys are in the plotting and engineering of Christmas hacks.

Christmas is always a season that is marketed as ‘for the children’ and studies are showing again and again that less is more. “Children are more likely to play in more sophisticated, advanced ways with fewer toys present”, too much causes distraction while fewer encourages imagination (the Toledo study). Just like us adults, being surrounded by more stuff doesn’t necessarily make anyone happy.

In general we have a ‘Make or Find’ gift giving approach, which does what is says on the tin… taking the effort to make a gift or hunting down a one-of-a-kind treasure is great fun and wrapping it up in (maybe this) newspaper with a lovely recycled bow (your aunt gave you last year and you have in your ‘to be reused’ Christmas paper box) makes Christmas less about the big shops and more about the warmth of the hearth. We have also introduced a ‘Secret Santa’ tradition since Ari was born. We decided to let him in on the spirit of St Nicholas so he is able to be a Santa too. Each year we choose someone we want to give a Santa gift to and we sneak it to them so they don’t know who it’s from, that tradition is cementing the ‘giving’ as central to the season and Ari has already chosen who this years lucky recipient(s) will be!

Another consumption-free tradition that has been evolving here over the years are our ’12 days of Christmas’ where we take the 12 days from Christmas until the 5th of January and do something as a family each day; going for walks, visiting friends, crafts, ice-skating, whatever. This gives us something to look forward to after Christmas day, where I have in the past felt an ‘it’s over’ slump as well as gives the opportunity to ‘give’ to each other completely unwrapped.

May you all have a very Merry Christmas with an abundance of food, friends and festivities!

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