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e v a H o t w o H s a m X d o o aG How the things we do at Christmas can make things better for us, our relationships, and the environment by Nigel A free e-book from

www.nigelsecostore.com

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An introduction The odd thing is, even in our varied modern 21st century culture, Christmas is the single most important date in the year. No other day comes close. There are good reasons for that, only in all the madness, we sometimes forget what those reasons are. The weeks of ads for fragrances, chocolates and strange liqueurs don’t make it any easier. So I’ve decided to try and give you my version of what makes Christmas great: welcome to Nigel’s guide to How To Have A Good Xmas.

This is my version of what makes Christmas great. Nigel’s Eco Store

Contents 1. Christmas 2. Trees 3. Feast 4. Presents 5. Stock 6. The Walk 7. Sing 8. Play 9. Resolutions How to Have a Good Xmas 6 2 | 23 7


1 Christmas

of l a iv st fe a to in s a tm is hr C ed rn tu y Last centur e m ti r ou r fo ns io it d a tr ke a m re n ca consumption, but we The first thing to consider is what is Christmas for? And why has it been such an important festival for so many centuries? Well, I think it’s because Christmas is a very old way to give your self, your family and your friends a new start. Let me explain. Firstly, for those who like facts, it was the Emperor Constantine who first decided back in 336 AD that Christmas should be on December 25. It was a pretty smart choice to schedule it four days after the much older tradition of rebirth, the Christmas cards. Try to send winter solistice, December recycled Christmas cards 21. That is the point in the (like these designer ones). calendar at which, even in the Or your own, or send texts or depths of the hardest winter, e-cards instead. And recycle we start to hope again. ƒ them afterwards, of course.

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At it’s heart, Christmas is about rebirth and starting anew. It’s easy to forget that. We all know that Christmas comes with a lot of extra baggage that has nothing to with what we want out of it. For a start. How did it become so absurdly commercial? Did you know that the reason why Father Christmas is always pictured in red and white goes back to a Coca Cola advertising campaign from 1931? This is a true story. At the time US advertising regulations meant that you weren’t allowed to depict children in adverts, so instead the Atlanta drinks company decided that Santa Claus himself would be the figurehead for their drink. Up until then Father Christmas had come in all colours of costume and had been drawn in all shapes and sizes. Coca Cola dressed him in their brand colours of red and white and that’s how we’ve ended up thinking about him ever since. Just one example of how the last century turned Christmas into a festival of consumption. This century, maybe we can turn it into something else. Something much better.

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This century, maybe we can turn Xmas into something else. Something much better. Before you start rushing around making Christmas to-do lists here’s a quick way of reminding yourself what you think is great about Christmas. Ask yourselves the following three questions: T What was the best Christmas present you ever received? T What was the best Christmas meal you ever had? T Who is the person you’d most like to see again this Christmas?

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2 Trees

e th to us ts ec nn co It l. ca gi a m is Bringing a tree inside natural world Trees are a brilliant symbol of Christmas. Personally, I love the idea of bringing them indoors. It’s quite a strange concept, though, isn’t it? For starters, it’s always such a messy operation, trying to drag some Nordman Fir up the stairs and across the carpet of your living room among the flat screen TVs and the MP3 players. But it’s not just because it’s a kind of mad thing to do that I like it; bringing evergreens into the heart of our house is an act that’s full of symbolism. We take the natural world indoors to pay homage to it. The evergreen is a hint of cycles that transcend the usual wheel of birth and death. ƒ

A real tree is carbon neutral. Buy from a small-scale sustainable grower and/or make sure the tree has Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation. You could also grow your own.

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When Prince Albert brought the Germanic tradition of Christmas trees to Britain in 1841 he probably didn’t know it, but he was linking us back to that same ancient pre-Christian paganism I talked about in Chapter One. But it’s interesting that we reconnected with this paganism at a time when industrialisation was gaining speed. I wonder if, instinctively, we understood that even then something was being lost that we needed to win back. Humans have always been greedy soand-sos. We’ve always tended to push our relationship to the natural world to the limits. Once we were hunters. The theory goes, we hunted down the animals until there were not enough left to feed us. At that point, around 12,000 years ago, we moved to farming. We now know it was a case of farm or starve. When we became farmers, our lives first became harder and shorter. Instead of travelling light in small, egalitarian bands, we formed static,

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Decorate a tree: it’s a nice way of saying thank you to trees in general. hierarchical societies. We had to work longer hours to grow enough to eat. Instead of spending a couple of hours a day hunting, we now worked from sunrise to sunset. But farming formed the basis of modern civilisation and eventually we prospered. And as the size of the land we took for farming increased, trees disappeared, just as the wild game had before. And just as we exhausted our ability to live off game, that process we started 12,000 years ago is now reaching its limit. Now we are running out of forest, and trees, we know are crucial to the carbon cycle.

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3 Feast

to od go ’s it nd a s a tm is hr C t a l ea It’s good to share a m know where it comes from There’s a front garden near where I live. Three years ago the owner dug it up and planted cabbages, onions, potatoes, carrots and courgettes in it. Now, each time I see her, she complains that she can barely get her work done there because everyone stops to chat. They pass by the expensively planted gardens nearby to coo at her humble rows of onions. Instead of growing ornamental shrubs plants, people have become passionate about growing food.

Something remarkable has happened in the last few years. We have started growing our own food again. All over the country, people have dug up lawns and planted vegetables. Demand for allotments has never been higher. Channel 4’s Landshare scheme has connected would-be growers with neglected pieces of land. The Mayor of London launched a Capital Growth scheme which plans to create 2012 new parcels of land for growing food on by 2012. This year Tim Smit of ƒ

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You can grow food even if you don’t have a big garden have a look at these patio planters and growing frames

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the Eden Project created an event called The Big Lunch. Around a million people sat down together in the UK and ate the results of the summer season’s growings. In London the artist Clare Patey held her second Feast on the Bridge, stopping traffic and filling the bridge with a giant community dinner, cooked from food grown on parcels of land from all around the capital. Christmas revolves around a meal. We might sometimes baulk at the excess of it, but there’s something fundamental about sitting down together and eating. And sharing a glass of organic wine, perhaps. It is the most human of activities. But this revival shows that we know that a meal is more than just eating together. To know where our food is coming from and to take a hand in not only preparing it, but in teasing it from the land, is increasingly becoming part of the feast. We can’t all have gardens or allotments. In my flat, a window box is the best I can manage. But even if you can’t grow it, it’s important, at least, to know where your food is coming from. The fact we’re starting to care again is one of the best ways we’ve found of reconnecting with our reliance on the natural world.

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Instead of growing ornamental shrubs plants, people have become passionate about growing food.

Have you ever eaten something you’ve grown from seed? If you have, you’ll know it really seem to make food taste better. You’ll know the satisfaction you get from it. Why not pass that satisfaction on to someone else this Christmas by giving them presents that will get them started. If you haven’t, maybe next year is going to be the year you do it.

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4 Presents

Christmas is about giving presents. And, hopefully, about receiving them too In the 1920s, the French sociologist Marcel Maus wrote a book called The Gift. In it he suggested that there was something magical about a present. It contained something of the giver in it. Because of that, a gift creates a bond between the donor and the person who accepts it. It is these acts of reciprocity that tie us together. Forty years earlier, another anthropologist Franz Boas had studied a Canadian tribe who lived on the North West Coast, the Kwakiutl. The wealthy among them gave away their gifts to show off their status. The more you gave, the bigger cheese you were. These potlatch ceremonies were accompanied by elaborate and aggressive boasts, belittling the person who received the gifts. Take this Gucci watch. It shows how brilliant I am, and what a dismal squirt you are! At one point, when the Kwakiutl started to trade with settlers, things got out of hand. Huge piles of

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blankets were bought, given, and then burned. At a wild guess, I’d say we all recognise these scenarios. Presents that show unconditional love. Presents that show conditional love. Presents that leave us feeling smaller than we felt before we received them. Presents that are so bloody useless they go straight to landfill. Our world is made of fragile networks. There are the networks of natural ecology; bonds between us and our planet. There are also the networks between us as a species. The glue that joins us to our friends, our neighbours, our families. These subtle but powerful bonds we form between them are based on reciprocity. We must chose our gifts with care. ƒ How to Have a Good Xmas 6 9 | 23 7


Maus’s theory of reciprocal giving was based on the idea that you had to know the identity of the person you were giving the gift to. When we leave a bag of clothes out for Shelter, or sign a direct debit to a charity, we are giving, but we do not know who we are giving to. To give to charity is a good act, and we should all do it, but because we don’t know the person who receives it, it does not create a reciprocal network. It is a one-way transaction. I think there’s a chance now to do more than just give. One of the prize winners in our first Green Web Awards was Freecycle. “Freegle” groups like Freecycle create networks of “gifters”. There are two things I think are brilliant about this:

Here’s an idea. This Christmas, give a present to somebody you don’t know. Look around you right now. Find something you haven’t used in years. Search for your local greencycle or freegle group on the internet. It takes less than a minute to add your item to the email list that goes out every time there are 25 or so items to be given away. In a day or so, someone you never know will come to your door and collect the item, and they’ll almost certainly be smiling. Even if you just post it to them, you have done something that strengthens the network, drawing more people into this new community whose excellent values tell us that if we act together there is almost nothing that need be thrown away.

One, that those bloody useless presents don’t have to go into landfill. Two, that you can give something away to someone you don’t know, but it’s not just a one-way transaction. In this case, the act of giving helps grow the reciprocal network. Which brings us to…

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Give something away… it helps grow the reciprocal network. How to Have a Good Xmas 6 10 | 23 7


5 Stock

od go lly a re ng hi et m so te ea cr to s er ov ft le How to use In his recent book Waste, the environmental activist Tristram Stuart calculated how much food the world wastes. We waste it in the fields, where we throw away carrots that aren’t straight. We waste the food we grow by feeding it to animals; if we ate less meat we would need to chop down less trees. We waste food by buying too much and throwing it away. We waste food by being suckered into buyone-get-one-free deals. We waste food by believing sell-by dates, rather than our own eyes and noses. Based on the quantity of food we throw away, Tristram then did some more sums. What he discovered is amazing. What we throw away could more than feed the one billion who go hungry every day. If we stopped throwing that much food away, we would also lower the carbon footprint of the food industry so substantially that it would bring total global emissions back to the levels declared ‘safe’ by climate scientists. If we wasted less we would need less farmland and we could save the trees that cool our planet by absorbing the CO2. It’s really that simple. ƒ

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At some point in the days after Christmas people used to make stock with the carcass of the chicken or turkey. The house would fill with the delicious smell of it. Real stock is a brilliant thing. It tastes a thousand times better than anything that comes in a cube. Plus you know that when you make a good stock you have wasted nothing. You can add most leftovers to a stock. You don’t have to even have a turkey carcass. Here’s a recipe for a good Christmas vegetable stock: ƒ

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If we stopped throwing so much food away, we could bring total global emissions back to safe levels.

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Nigel’s Christmas Vegetable Stock Take:

Method

T Carrot peelings and stalks T Discarded broccoli stalks T Brussels sprout leaves T Potato peelings T Sweet potato peelings (In fact, the leavings of just about every vegetable you’ve prepared for Xmas dinner apart from onion skins, which taste nasty)

1 Chop up the ingredients if necessary and place them in a pan. Cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer slowly for 30-40 minutes.

Add: T 1 chopped onion T 2 celery stalks if available T Several black peppercorns T 1 bay leaf T 1⁄2 a teaspoonful of thyme or parsley, depending on what you have left from the main meal T Salt

2 Pass the liquid through a sieve. If you have used gritty peelings, let the liquid settle before sieving and discard a little liquid at the bottom of the pan. If you want to freeze it, the stock can be reduced by boiling it further. 3 There you go. Now if you take about 1kg of the roast vegetables left over from your Christmas dinner, add that to 750ml of that stock, plus some thyme or rosemary and a squeeze of lemon juice you’ve got the makings of a delicious Boxing Day soup. Boil them all together for another 30 minutes then blend or pass through a sieve and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm bread.

A perfect way to warm yourself after you’ve come home from your winter walk…

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6 The Walk

s a tm is hr C ut bo a gs in th st be e th of e Go for a walk. It’s on At Christmas there is television and sitting down; there are stuffy rooms. And then there is the antidote. At some point somebody suggests a walk. Walking is one of the very best things about Christmas. Where I live, on Boxing Day, the seaside is full of promendaders, arm in arm or pushing buggies, children trying out their new bikes, suddenly happy to be in the air after the cooped up stuffiness of Christmas, sucking down lungfuls of salt air, returned to the simplicty of moving slowly through a landscape. Behind my town there are ancient chalk hills. They too are full of groups of people, wrapped in scarves and gloves, carrying flasks of brandy and coffee, struggling up steep inclines to reach the top. In mid December the days are short. There is little daylight to walk in. We have to make the most of it.

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The truth is there is something incredibly primal about moving through a landscape at your body’s own pace. Your foot connects with the earth with each footfall. The slow rhythm connects your heartbeat to the beat of the universe. In the distance you may see a church or a hilltop. Slowly, without you really thinking about it, you move towards it. The shape of the land around you changes. It’s as if you are fashioning the landscape by passing through it. ƒ

Walking creates a pause to go back to those thoughts we don’t have time for. How to Have a Good Xmas 6 14 | 23 7


Every walk is a shortcut to a part of ourselves we have lost contact with.

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The act of slow travel is one that loosens the head. When Nietzsche said all truly great thoughts are concieved while walking he said something we all know to be true. Poets like Wordsworth composed their poems while walking through the open country; the composer Satie concieved his greatest works on six-mile walks between Arceiul and Paris, sometimes walking at night, pausing under street lamps to note down his ideas. Every walk is potentially a shortcut to a place we’ve forgotten about, a part of ourselves we have lost contact with. We fill the year full of conscious activity, we work, we carry out our duties, we care for others. At Christmas we stop. By walking we can use that pause to go back to those thoughts we don’t have time for in our busy life. As the New Year approaches, we have much to think about. What do you want of the next 12 months? What will they want from you? If you start a walk with a problem you may find that by the time you end it, you are at least a little closer to the solution than when you set out. In the open air, worries that seemed to fill the room at home can change their proportions. That’s not to say you have to start with an agenda. Quite often the act of travel will find you one. Odd

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unacknowledged thoughts might start to surface now you’ve given them a broader horizen in which to show themselves. And when you’re walking you may pause to catch your breath. Half way up a hill you stop and are amazed by the view. Or maybe sit with your back to the trunk of a winter tree and look up to see the shapes the naked branches make as the clouds scud over them. Walking reconnects us with our neglected world. It puts us back into nature. And in the same way it reconnects us with those thoughts we have not had time to dwell on.

This year be inventive. The artist/musician/ writer Bill Drummond says that whenever he goes to a new town or city, he writes his name on a map and then walks his name, or as close as he can to it down unfamiliar streets. The artist Richard Long once did a circular walk across Dartmoor, literally following the sun as it rose and set. You don’t have to be reckless but try and come up with a walk that you won’t forget for a year.

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7 Sing

Why singing and music is good for you Christmas is one of the few times the British sing together. (For the purposes of this chapter, we shall temporarily exempt the Welsh, who are less shy about the idea than the rest of us.) Generally we sing together grudgingly, knowing only the first two lines of “Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and mumbling the rest with all the enthusiasm of a schoolboy owing up to a broken window. Which is kind of pathetic, really. But the truth is in Britain we only admire public singing when at the football, or when other cultures are doing it. ƒ

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Singing is the most democratic of musical activities. It is something we can all do, whether we’re brilliant at it or not. To hell with Simon Cowell. And when you are singing with a crowd of others, is a really freeing, uplifting thing. A kind of warmth spreads over you that has nothing to do with the port you drank to loosen you up in the first place.

The future means we’re going to have to stop worrying. We’re all going to have to join in together.

The trick is to join in.

Altogether now…

On the topic of music, it’s interesting that music has become the most virtualised artform. Though a lot of MP3 players still leave a lot to be desired ecologically, you can now easily give someone music without even having to wrap it and send it. Why not email an old friend you haven’t seen in a while a Spotify playlist of five tracks you’ve heard this year which you loved?

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Of course you don’t actually have to sing if you don’t want to. In a way this isn’t about singing at all. The point I’m really trying to make is that most of us hesitate far too long to do things collectively. We are worried of making fools of ourselves.

“As long as we live, there is never enough singing.” Martin Luther How to Have a Good Xmas 6 18 | 23 7


8 Play

Christmas does not have to be battery-operated Why not play some games that reconnect with real people? Even the most curmudgeonly among us has to play at least one old fashioned board/card or party game at Christmas. Those are the rules. Whether it’s the quiz from a cracker or one of those Cluedo games that go on for hours before you discover that Uncle Bill, under the influence of the Amontillado, has gone and put two rooms in the secret envelope. After all these years do you really still care that your sister is so competitive that she beats you at everything? The important part of playing games is the willingness to make a fool out of yourself and the best games end in laughter. It goes without saying that games are meant to bring people together. ƒ

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If you are giving a batteryoperated game for Christmas, why not consider giving some rechargable batteries with it.

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Try a different game this year: A treasure hunt Use the whole house. Use the whole neighbourhood. One clue leads to the next, taking you around the place. If there are kids involved, drawings will do. The secret is to lay the clues backwards, from the final prize to the first clue.

Nigel’s Game of the Year A way to figure out what all those friends and relations have been doing since last Christmas. On a piece of paper, write down two things you’ve done this year which is least typical of you, or that people are least likely to guess you did. Then make up two lies about what you’ve done this year. Put them all in a hat. Each person reads one piece of paper and the others have to guess a) who the writer is, and b) which of the four statements is true. Clever players may wish to impersonate others with their two lies to put you off the scent.

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Sartorial Bulldog An outdoor game, unless you want to break the china. One person’s “it”. Whoever’s “it” stands between two destinations. The rest of the players go to either destination. The person who’s “it” then says something like, “People wearing tartan”, “Christmas jumpers”, “corduroy” or just, “Clothes with zips”. Anyone who is wearing clothes in that category has to run to the opposite destination. Anyone caught becomes “it”. Last person wins.

The best games end in laughter. How to Have a Good Xmas 6 20 | 23 7


9 Resolutions

er gg bi ng hi et m so of rt pa be nd a s ve el rs How we can change ou We want to change. Sometimes we fail. Each year we create these little markers – New Year’s Resolutions – to aim for over the next twelve months. Often we don’t get to the place we hope to be. There is a difference between what we say and do. The things we do often get in the way of the things we say we’re going to do. The sociologist, Anthony Giddens in his book The Politics of Climate Change describes the phenomenon by which we motor around in Four Wheel Drives one day, and campaign for climate change legislation the next. He calls this Gidden’s Paradox. (Of course I exempt all the customers of Nigel’s Eco Store from this. We don’t usually have Four Wheel Drives. Even when we can afford them). ƒ

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Why do we find it so difficult to change? I have a theory about that. As with the singing, too often we feel awkward if we are acting on our own… Here’s an interesting story. An American electricity company recently started sending out bills to some of its customers that showed three charts; one was a customer’s own energy use, the next was their neighbourhood’s energy use, and the third was how much energy the most efficent households in the neighbourhood were using. An amazing thing happened. The people receiving these bills started consuming less electricity. Why? If you’re cynical you might say that this is a kind of inverse keeping up with the Joneses. They see how much their neighbours are using and they want to go one better by using less. I’m not cynical though. I think this sort of scheme shows the best thing about us as a species. We act better when we act together. The best thing about new technology is that it gives us so many ways in which we can do that.

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Interestingly modern neuroscience is beginning to say that, far from just being possessors of a selfish gene, our brains naturally empathise with other people. We share feelings. We copy others. We like to be part of something.

Let’s start acting together. We have so many ways to do it now, and there’s such a great need for that to happen. It’s a great resolution we can all take. How to Have a Good Xmas 6 22 | 23 7


Happy Christmas and thanks so much for coming to Nigel’s Eco Store. Have a great new year s n io t s e g g u s d n fi PS if you want to er your energy w lo n a c u o y w o h for . w fe a e v a h e w footprint,

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How to Have a Good Xmas  

How the things we do at Christmas can make things better for us, our relationships, and the environment

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