We all have memories of Christmas past. For me, the childhood excitement of waking to find presents at the foot of my bed, a reward perhaps for enduring the tedium of spending hours making paper chains to decorate the house. A toy vehicle, a Dinky, was what I treasured most. Quite early in my life I encountered another side, as we children visited the hospital where my father worked and spoke to the patients who were too unwell to spend Christmas with their families.
Later, as a doctor myself, I became used to working over Christmas, carving the turkey on the ward while my family tried to brighten the patients' day; even, in those more accommodating times, admitting some of our lonely patients for a few days over the holiday for social rather than medical reasons. There have always been for us two sides to Christmas, the family celebration of Jesus's birth and recognition of the fact that not everyone enjoys our good fortune; Christmas is an opportunity to share with others. Some of our happiest Christmas memories relate to sharing our meal with young Greek, Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese families, whose parents had come to study in Scotland.
Although the central theme of family celebration remains for most people, the commercial side has now become dominant. Already in October, Christmas is being used to sell us things. Temptations are offered on all sides – not what do you need
, but what do you want
? And very obviously this leads to the greatest festival of waste of the year. I'm sure you will all have thought about this. We fortunate ones eat too much but do not always consume all we have prepared. Children get more presents than even they want, and many toys are neglected after a few minutes. Much of the wrapping paper and many of the cards are not recyclable, neither are most crackers, candles and plastic toys and decorations. Competitions may develop between grandparents as well as the traditional ones between children.
Plainly, Christmas has become bad for the planet. It is time to think of a simpler, sustainable celebration, one which not only enhances the lives of our friends and families but also takes account of the effects we have on the planet and their effects on those less fortunate, in other countries and on our streets.
Every one of us can address this in his or her own way. The most important starting point is to think
about it. What can I do to reduce the wastefulness of Christmas, yet enjoy the celebration? Can I decorate the house with sprigs of holly and pine cones rather than use bought-in decorations? Can I use a potted tree or buy a recyclable one, preferably from a charitable source? Are the lights I use energy efficient and do I need them on all night? What is the most climate-friendly roast that suits my taste? Are e-cards acceptable? Can I eliminate plastic purchases from Christmas? How can I reduce the present-giving frenzy or perhaps give instead to those who are unlikely to get any?
I am anxious to avoid getting the reputation of Scrooge, though I have some sympathy with his point of view and he did ultimately repent, so I am not intending to try to give answers to any of these questions. Each of us will have individual views and will face different family issues. However, guidance is available and I suggest that we all search Green/eco Christmas on the web. There are many tips online including plenty that urge you to buy more, so beware!
However, over the next few weeks, let us remember the increasing evidence of climate catastrophe and its effects on the poor of the world. I hope that, in these troubled times, we and our families will be seen to take a lead in making Christmas not only happy and peaceful but also green.