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One week to go … and I have done nothing about Christmas. Squat. Big fat zero. No cards written. No presents bought. No tree up. And am I panicking? Nope. Well, not much.

There is far too much hoo-ha about Christmas. Too much time and money and stress invested in it. We give it a massive build-up, work ourselves into a lather over gifts and food and parties and family get-togethers and end up several pounds heavier on the scales and several hundred pounds lighter in the wallet.

But are we any happier? Marooned in a sea of ripped wrapping paper and quashing one’s own disappointment (who actually wants candles or soap or – my all-time low – an owl hooter?), it is hard not to ask yourself: “Is that it, then?”. Especially when the bickering over batteries from kids allowed Quality Streets before breakfast kicks in.

And, to cap it all, the Doctor Who Christmas Special never quite lives up to our feverish festive expectations. But that’s my point: Christmas rarely does.

The best Christmas I ever had was when my then boyfriend (now husband) and I set off on Christmas Eve for a long drive to my parents and we were forced to return home due to bad weather. Having cleaned out the fridge before we left, we had nothing but tinned ham and oven chips for Christmas dinner, but he made us some crackers and paper hats and there was plenty of booze (originally intended as familial gifts) and chocolates (ditto) and we had a blissful time.

I don’t want to sound all Scroogish and mean. Perhaps my problem with Christmas is that I peak too early. I play in two brass bands, which means that I’m out carolling from the end of November onwards. By the time it gets to the big day, I’m Christmassed out. Plus, I’m so busy playing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day that it’s very hard to find a day when I’m actually free to do any shopping.

Luckily, the husband has taken care of the daughter’s stocking-filler presents courtesy of eBay and her main pressie – tickets for the two of them to see her favourite band – does not require any wrapping. I did insist on recycled wrapping paper and most of my greetings cards will be of the virtual variety. Our Christmas tree – fake, about eight years old now and still going strong – will be dusted off and decorated this weekend, so all in all, I may just catch up in time.

Christmas excess can generate a massive amount of carbon emissions, and here in the South Bank area of York we’ve been running a campaign to promote awareness of this and to suggest lower-carbon alternatives. According to How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint Of Everything, by Mike Berners-Lee, a full-on Christmas could cost up to 1,500kg of CO2 per adult; by contrast a low-carbon scenario equates to about 4kg CO2 per adult. The calculations are based on unwanted presents, wasted food, avoidable travel, fairy lights and cards, so it doesn’t even show the full picture.

If you add in the emissions from all the plastic toys and electronic gadgets made in China and supermarket produce sourced from around the world it would be way higher.

I am shunning supermarket bun-fights and have ordered our turkey (locally reared, free-range) from the butcher down the road. Together with a few treats from the deli and our regular vegebox delivery, which, this time of year, is always full of Christmassy things like sprouts and parsnips and walnuts, we should be pretty much sorted.

My mother-in-law, who is coming to stay, very sweetly said that was all she would need, and then added, with a great deal more emphasis: “I hope you’re going to turn the bloody heating up.”

This is a reference to the fact that she finds our house freezing (the thermostat is usually on 17 or 18 degrees) and the concept of turning down the thermostat by one degree is not one she goes along with. One Christmas, she took herself off to M&S to buy extra jumpers.

Of course, one shouldn’t let older people get cold, and I don’t want her to be uncomfortable, so we’ll probably have the heating up to a broiling 20 degrees while she’s here. I’ll do a bit of self-flagellation with a cabbage stump by way of penance afterwards.

Only joking. Those big stalks of kale from the vegebox work much better. Happy Christmas.

From The Press, 17 December 2010 –


December 2010

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