Ecologist guide to a green Christmas
Jemima Roberts, Eifion Rees and Matilda Lee
1st November, 2010
From Darina Allen's mountain picnics, to Mark Boyle's moneyless meditations and Craig Sams decorating with fungi, 11 environment-minded luminaries tell us what they'll be doing this festive season
Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery School
Where I spend Christmas varies, but it’s always with the family – sometimes at home and sometimes we go away. Our children are all grown up now, but there are four generations of us living within 15 minutes of each other. I have four children and seven grandchildren. I love sipping a little glass of sloe and damson gin, with tonic or fizz, while sitting around the fire. We also make ‘ratafias’ – infusions of fruit and citrus in spirit. We are fortunate to have a network of local producers, with our goose coming from the local farmer, and live in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm, where all our veg will come from. For years we have been buying Christmas trees in pots then planting them outside afterwards. We’ve also collected tree decorations over the years – many are connected to memories. The grandchildren make them, and each has a place on the tree. We encourage them to make Christmas cards and sell them to us. We are getting across two messages: recycling and entrepreneurship. We relax with long walks up Comeragh and Knockmealdown mountains. I come from a long line of picnickers – we once had Christmas dinner on the Cullohill mountains. We cooked sausages and brought a hurricane kettle. Those were some of the best picnics.
I usually spend Christmas in Wales with different bits of the family, depending on who is around. Every now and then we do a huge Christmas at the pub with all the extended family. That is fantastic fun but, we all agree, too much for every year! I love sloe gin prepared the previous year – I actually have some from Hackney Marshes that is five years old. On my Christmas wish-list is anything organic, fair trade, handmade or secondhand. I shop for my gifts at the Eco Design Fair. It moves around; this year it’s at the Assembly Hall in Islington town hall, London, on the 4th and 5th of December. It has totally inspiring eco design and there is always new stuff – for the last however many years it’s been going I’ve done all my shopping there. Tips for a greener Christmas? Reuse last year’s wrapping paper; we always have in my family, though the ribbon-gathering can be a bit of a fight. If you don’t have enough of last year’s, use newspaper with either string or ribbon, which can look very stylish. Over the year I collect pages with good images. Use last year’s cards for labels and a fallen branch for a tree. My ideal way to relax is to eat fine organic, local, seasonal field-grown food with family and friends. Walking. Early nights and late mornings. Just hanging by the fire.
Rob Hopkins, Transition Network
I spend Christmas with my wife, my kids, my aunt, my in-laws, possibly my mother (she doesn’t like Christmas much) and my dog. Every year I always wonder why we don’t eat bread sauce every day, given that it is utterly delicious, but then we never do until the following Christmas. Odd that. I’m rather partial to a good nut roast and for a tipple one of those great Devon ales that is very dark, almost flat, and tastes of fruit. I don’t have much on my wish-list: a couple of good lie-ins, some socks and a book or two will do me. Shopping for the family takes place almost entirely in Totnes, where I live, and a fair proportion from the excellent Christmas Fayres that take place on the three Tuesday nights in the run-up to Christmas. I use our local currency, the Totnes pound, where I can, and am planning to give local poet Matt Harvey’s new book Where Earwigs Dare to pretty much everyone. My tip for a greener Christmas is to keep it simple, use as much local food as you can, not to buy lots of plastic crap for the kids and, above all, don’t go to the Boxing Day sales! Most of us are already broke enough the day after Christmas – I don’t get what possesses people to go out shopping again straight away. Go for a nice walk instead. I relax playing board games with my kids, nodding off on the sofa, walking the dog and not going anywhere near my laptop or my mobile phone for about two weeks.
Livia Firth, Eco Age
I spend Christmas in the Italian countryside with my family, enjoying dark Divine chocolate and my mother-in-law’s Christmas cake. Although I’m not a big drinker I love Aspall’s organic apple cider. On my wish-list is an ice-cream machine and an Erin O’Connor ‘She died of kisses’ black organic cotton t-shirt. Other people’s gifts I get from my shop! Using a real, potted tree and handmade or family decorations that have a story are two great ways to green your Christmas. Send cards only to the ones you really love and, of course, buy them either from charity shops or made with recycled/PEFC-certified paper. As for the food: keep it organic, simple and local. To relax at Christmas I just need to be with my family, at home, with the phone and computer switched off and watching lots of movies!
Mark Boyle, founder Freeconomy Community
I normally hitch back to northwest Ireland to spend a few days with my folks over Christmas. This year I'm going to spend it on a Vipassana [meditation] course, as I feel the need to deepen my understanding of myself. Until we each question every part of our own cultural and mental conditioning, climate change and environmental destruction will continue as the symptoms they are. As for my festive tipple, I live in an orchard in the Westcountry, so I'll let you guess what I'm drinking this Christmas! There is nothing on my wish-list – I have everything I need. I do wish though that everyone would wake up on the 25th and change the lens through which they see the world. Think ‘how much can I give?’ instead of the current culture of ‘how much can I get?’ I can’t shop for gifts for other people, as I haven’t used money for two years now, so I go straight to the source of all things: the earth. The current economic model and social mindset means Christmas can never be truly sustainable or ‘green’. If you want to make yourself feel good then buy locally grown, organic food and little else – just don't fool yourself that it makes up for the iPod or any of the rest of the crap that inadequately attempts to fill the void. My ideal way to relax at Christmas would be to be in the woods as part of an ecological system in which the human is no more important than the squirrel. And to spend time around the fire, in the dark, with people who know their unimportance also.
Sam Roddick, founder Coco-de-Mer
I spend Christmas with my family, wherever they are. Food-wise, I love bread sauce and that Nigella Lawson recipe where you soak the turkey in spices and maple syrup for 24 hours. There’s nothing on my Christmas wish-list other than organic chipolatas and sex – but not together. I only buy presents for my daughter and I am so ashamed I don't want to tell you where she wants me to shop from – we don’t do presents anymore for anyone else. My top eco tip is to show love, not to buy it. When my mum was around she made cloth wrapping paper at Christmas – just square pieces. I use newspaper and decorate it for my daughter, and she makes me presents. I love Christmas and go mad with decorations. I once covered my tree with blown-up brightly coloured condoms for a laugh – it looked fantastic. My ideal way to relax is to do absolutely nothing other than to walk in parks or the country, eat, play ridiculous games, watch movies, eat some more and then sleep.
Tom Flood, chief executive BTCV
This year we will spend Christmas in Bournemouth, with my partner and friends, but in previous years I have gone back to southern Ireland to spend time with my family. My favourite treat has to be the Christmas lunch. I love turkey with all the trimmings, raising a glass of good red wine and recounting with friends stories from the year ending and plans for the future. Because we have a £10 limit on presents for each other, I get very excited about the resourceful way in which my partner will have shopped to surprise me. I buy my presents in Islington, North London, where I live, walking to the local market and shops. A Christmas tree is an essential purchase, but we can buy it locally and recycle it afterwards. This year our friends are doing all the cooking, although we have promised to bring a food hamper of delicious purchases, which our local Chapel Market will supply in abundance. We both love long walks, so being by the sea will be a fantastic place to stay for our four-day festive break.
Eugenie Harvey, director 10:10 campaign
This year I will be spending Christmas with my family, including my beautiful new baby Isaac, who will be just four months old. Could anything be nicer? I’m an old lush at this time of year, with shedloads to eat and I’ll be compensating for last year when I couldn’t drink! My Christmas wish-list would include four flights to Australia to take my new son back to meet my Mum and Dad. I know it's heinous for the environment but we don't do it very often, and could there be a better reason? For gifts I shop increasingly online – Amazon in particular. As for green tips, I would say get your children to make your cards out of last year’s ones. We also chop them in half to make Christmas postcards. With food, I'm all for loads of it, but we don't waste anything (see my hips for details...). I just love being in front of an open fire with my husband, safe in the knowledge that there aren't a pile of emails building up in my inbox. Christmas is one of those rare times when we collectively stop and draw a long, deep breath. I love it!
Liz Hosken, co-founder-director The Gaia Foundation
I spend Christmas in the countryside to escape the glitz and consumer fanfare of what is meant to be a spiritual ritual for Christians, tapping into that memory of the winter solstice, when we were connected to the true realities of living on this awesome planet. We usually have a full house as we invite friends and associates who don’t have family here in the UK. It makes for a wonderful multicultural time. In the spirit of rebelling against the drive for consumption and excess, we dig down to explore the traditional seasonal joys as much as possible: chestnuts, cranberries and Christmas pudding are all favourites. The tipple is usually a heartwarming, spine-tingling, peaty whiskey from the Scottish isles, perfect after a Christmas Day stroll. As well as having a relaxing time with family and friends, fully embracing the one time of the year when people do seem able to slow down, I would like to see a stoat in its white winter coat – an ermine – but my greatest wish is that we humans come to our senses and get going on the greatest task we have ever faced: to enable the Earth to regenerate, and to live lightly and respectfully in this jewel of the universe. I loathe shopping, so we agree as a family only to give some small gifts to the children, but not meaningless toys. Much greener than lots of plastic tinsel strewn across the house are recycled paper snowflakes, nature’s artistic twigs and array of nuts and dried fruits, ivy leaves and precious mistletoe, and woollen pom-poms are always great fun. My ideal way to relax is daring the family to swim in the freezing sea on Christmas Day, which is always great fun. Throwing caution to the wind with the promise that a warming hot toddy and the cosy cottage await our return!
Craig Sams, founder Green & Black’s and Carbon Gold
We usually have our extended family over in some mix or the other for Christmas, with a vegetarian meal and some concession to poultry-lovers. I keep a few bunches of Concord grapes from the October harvest and some Peasgood Nonsuch apples that are picked in November but reach their peak of flavour by the end of December. Jo makes a superb organic orange liqueur by marinating Seville oranges and spices in vodka and red wine for almost a full year. My homemade absinthe comes in particularly handy in settling the effects of overconsumption of rich food. Our big treat is a bottle of Les Tillets organic Meursault from Vintage Roots. On my wish-list is peace on Earth. I have an iPad already, or that would top my list. I shop almost always online, mostly Amazon, or at the local shops. This year we'll be giving a lot of GroChar, my new biochar product, to anyone who has a garden. We recycle cards, so people often get back the one they sent us on a previous year. A lovely decoration is strings of dried fly agaric mushroom, with its white spots on a shiny reddish-orange background, threaded around the tree, at a height where no little persons might accidentally ingest it. The Maya counsel never to make agreements or take any decisive action during the ‘dead days’ tagged on to the end of their lunar year cycle. I take this seriously and spend the time tidying my desk, sorting out photographs, updating my diary and archives and other things where I’ve procrastinated – but I do avoid proper work. Otherwise, just long walks in the deep south-facing glens and gorse-covered hills that stretch along Hastings’ unspoiled coastline.
Jo Royle, ocean advocate and skipper on the Plastiki
My job means I spend a lot of time living in the middle of the ocean, with a few Christmases spent trying to cook up a traditional dinner while bobbing around. As often as I can I spend it with my family – it’s a time to regroup around the dinner table, eat too much and play silly games. My brothers and I go to the pub on Christmas Eve then come home to re-enact 'Twas the night before Christmas' with Mum and Dad from the same book as we have had for 30 years – very silly. Dinnertime has become a bit of a ‘wine-off’ as we compete to supply the best bottle... oh, and bread sauce. On my wish-list is a vintage pocket compass, and for the young ones I’ll plant a tree in support of an ocean-focused project, such as the Environmental Justice Foundation's Save the Seas Campaign. This year I'll be giving away a few copies of Harmony by Tony Juniper, Ian Skelly and Prince Charles, which discusses our relationship with nature, a topic at the heart of all my work – sometimes it can be tricky to remember we're all sea creatures, with the ocean as our life-support system. My tips for a greener Christmas are to think of yourself as an activist when you make a purchase, stating your support for that product and supply chain – it makes you think before you buy. Also I try to limit one-life plastic, which clogs up the ocean, killing 100,000 marine birds and mammals, and causes toxicity in our food chain linked to cancers and infertility. After my experience with the Plastiki expedition, everyone will be getting a reusable drinks bottle for Christmas this year - hope this doesn't ruin the excitement of the surprise!
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