Tuesday, 14 December 2010

What colour Christmas are you dreaming of?

My inbox is filling up with seasonal cheer and helpful advice, generally around the theme of a enjoying a jolly green Christmas.  For instance, this beautifully wrapped cracker from Global Action Plan and this charming range of e-cards from Friends of the Earth.

But what is the real impact of Christmas?  Beyond the original, spiritual meaning(s), our festive season clearly retains a central cultural role in bringing families together.  Unfortunately, this leads to the seasonal binge of over-consumption - from wrapping paper to decorations, from turkey to more turkey and from overcooked veg to repeats on TV.  As a vegetarian household, we are at least spared the excesses of turkey - but we do have to endure our share of repeats.

Recent press coverage suggests that most families are letting their heads rule their hearts and agreeing budget caps for presents, in response to the financial pressures that we are all feeling this year.  But there is also the danger that, when times are hard, we cut back on our charitable giving.  We may not want to give a goat, indeed we're being told that a goat might be a burden for some families and their local environments, but the Good Gifts range has presents that will appeal to everyone.  Rather more personally, KIVA and Deki allow you to lend a little money ("microloans") to an individual family in the developing world, for a specific purpose.  Microcredit was pioneered by the Grameen Bank (whose founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel peace prize for this) in Bangladesh and it has spread rapidly around the developing world because of its amazing power to change the lives of the ultra-poor.

KIVA and Deki both allow you to give gift certificates to your loved ones, who then have the pleasure of selecting the projects and the people that they wish to lend to.  Almost all the projects repay their loans and the lender is then free to withdraw their money or to lend to another project - meaning that the credit "revolves" to help one family after another.  It could be a gift for life, not just for Christmas.

One of the perennial debates during Advent is the merits of real vs. artificial trees.  When our children were young, we always went to buy a freshly cut tree from the nearby Crown Estate in Windsor Great Park.  About 10 years ago, my uncle decided to throw out his old, artificial tree, and offered it to us.  Since then, we have changed our annual ritual to a journey into the attic to bring down this majestic fake fir and I was delighted that, last weekend, my daughter put the tree up and decorated it all by herself while mum and dad had a leisurely lie-in!  The moral of this tale has to be that, whatever the relative merits of real or artificial Christmas trees, the greenest choice has to be the artificial (or real, if potted and movable) one that you carefully store from year to year.

My top tip for December shopping?  B&Q Everyday Eco loft insulation - mineral wool top-up at £3 for 5.5sq. metres.  That's the cheapest it's ever been so snap it up while it's going!  Merry Christmas everyone.

No comments: