Festively sociable

Because we don’t ‘do’ Christmas as regards presents and rushing round to visit every single relative, this time of year is wonderfully relaxing and we get a bit of time just to be sociable.

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a possible source of future milk

From the solstice to my birthday I do try to do some special cooking as I have a bit more time than usual and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, this year the plan was to have beef on the solstice. Events transpired against us, and we ended up going to the farm to collect the beef yesterday. However, it on the plus side this gave us plenty of opportunity to meet one of the dairy cows on the farm and have a long chat with Sam the farmer about their plans. There’s a possibility of some raw milk from them next year for cheese-making, but they don’t have spare capacity at the moment, but it was a good connection made and we’ve supported a local business.

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a fruity thank-you

In the evening one of our neighbours called round, bearing a beautiful box of fruit. They order a lot of things online and we act as their drop-off point since they both work full time. By way of thanks, therefore, they gave us this lovely gift… I keep telling them it’s not necessary, but it’s good to receive graciously, which we did. I forecast Poire Belle Helene in the future, amongst other fruity things.

Today we went off to do some last minute shopping… two Danish pastries, a pot of cream, a newspaper, some T-pins for blocking Sophie and a pair of fair-trade rubber gloves (isn’t this the list everyone has just before Christmas?). Actually we mainly went out to wish various friends who have shops the joys of the season and to catch up on news of a very poorly friend (sadly no better). There was a great deal of chatting and little shopping… now that’s the spirit of the season for me.

 

A moveable feast

You know how you have plans, and then something happens…

celebrating the prospect of spring… the specific day probably isn’t important

In general we have a special celebration on the day of the winter solstice. We celebrate the turning of the seasons, the shortest day and the prospect of light and abundance to come. We have a special meal – usually made using local produce. This year I ordered some locally produced, grass-fed beef (quite a rare meat for us to eat) and was supposed to be collecting in on Thursday (the solstice itself) with the aim of cooking some to eat in the evening. However, a message yesterday asked if we could collect it on Friday instead… I hadn’t explained its date-specific use to the producer. So, that aspect of our celebration has been postponed.

In addition, yesterday I suddenly got a pile of requests for editing work – including one piece to be done by Friday. Everyone is so focussed on Christmas, that there is little understanding that some people might take time off work at any other time… especially in the week before 25 December. However, I am pragmatic and work is work, so I didn’t say no. A flurry of editing this morning has allowed me to make good progress and so I think I will be able to find time for solstice-related activities on Thursday, albeit without the beef.

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A past 25 December picnic

So, the new plan is either to go out on Thursday or for me to raid the freezer and rack my brains for some suitably celebratory dish that I can make from what’s in there… possibly plaice or mackerel. Then we’ll have our local beef with Yorkshire puddings on Sunday, and that will leave some lovely roast beef for sandwiches to eat during our traditional (indoor) picnic on 25 December. Life is all about being flexible…

All present and correct

How are your festive preparations going?

Are you the sort of person who spends months dashing about shopping, organising and decorating the house for whatever festivities you are celebrating? Are you preparing to welcome family and friends into your home? Will you be rushing out to lots of parties? Or will you be having a peaceful time over the next few weeks, watching the madness from the safety of your armchair?

And, most importantly, have you bought everyone a present?

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Are you ready for the magic of the season? 

What? You haven’t? But didn’t you know that you can only express your love by presenting everyone with a physical item? I doesn’t matter whether they actually want the thing you have bought for them. What matters is that you gave them something… even if it is a plastic fish in a Santa hat that sings Jingle Bells, or an inflatable Eiffel Tower, or a box of inedible shortbread in the shape of a fir tree. Even if it is something that will be (at best) amusing when they open the gift and will almost certainly be in landfill after week or two or consigned to a cupboard until the next spring clean. Even if it is something made in a sweatshop by someone who is little more than a slave. Even if it does deplete the earth’s limited resources. Just remember… the important thing is that you spent some money… that you gave a gift…

Me? Don’t expect a gift from me at this time of year. Don’t expect to find me trawling the shops for that hard-to-find toy or searching the internet for a gift for my mother (who firmly tells me that she has everything she wants). It’s not that I don’t care for you (or her), in fact it’s that I do care for you and her and for other human beings and for the planet.

Before you buy that box of Christmas crackers with the silly jokes, paper hats and plastic prizes, or the amusing Christmas jumper that will be worn once, or the new set of ornaments for the tree because this year’s theme is silver and pink, whilst last year’s was green and red, you might like to consider this:

Guess what percentage of total material flow through [the] system is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America. Fifty percent? Twenty? NO. One percent. One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport—99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I find that figure shocking. However, we can all do something about it. And we can start by not buying things that we KNOW will get thrown away almost immediately.

At this time of giving and generosity, why not think about the recipient rather than the act of giving? If someone tells you that there is nothing they want for Christmas, they are probably telling you that they don’t want any more stuff… so give them the gift of time… it never goes out of fashion and it never enters land fill. Go out for afternoon tea, for a walk, go to the pub, cook them dinner, do some chores for them, have a chat… spend some quality time together. And if you do want to give a physical gift, make it a good one… something that will last, something they will love, something that won’t be discarded as soon as the wrapping paper is off. Think about the gift… and if you can’t find something that they will love, don’t buy anything right now…. give them an IOU… you know they are likely to get more joy from a gift at another time of the year than at a time when they have a whole heap in front of them.

We practice random acts of giving… our friends and relatives do receive gifts, but not at specific times. And sometimes they receive gifts or help or time in quick succession and sometimes not for ages. We send or do things as we become inspired. This means that one lucky person will get a parcel soon because Mr Snail and I are making a gift together, but not because it’s Christmas, just because we had an idea and thought of something fun to make that one particular person would enjoy.

As for Christmas day Chez Snail… we will be gift-free and are planning a picnic in the limery!

 

 

 

 

The ‘c’ word

So, apparently now that it is November, it’s perfectly fine to start banging on about Christmas… specifically about Christmas shopping. We enter a period where consumerism is king and if you don’t want to participate you are considered weird.

However, I don’t like it and I’m not joining in. So, please consider me weird.

A random present

A random present – one of you will recognise this!

We gave up giving and receiving Christmas presents years and years ago and so, the frenzy of shopping that many are indulging in, or preparing for, or bragging about is not a part of my autumn. I’m currently in the process of making a present for someone, but that will be dispatched once completed for immediate enjoyment and will have nothing to do with any sort of pseudo-religious shenanigans.

I have been told many times that if I had children, I would be obliged to participate, but I don’t, so it’s not relevant. And I think that my nieces and nephew (although no longer children) and my other friends and family rather enjoy the random arrival of gifts when the mood takes me and inspiration hits.

As usual this year, we’ll not be shopping and we’ll not be seduced into buying junk just for the sake of giving presents. I really encourage you to do the same. However, if you do want to lavish gifts on your nearest and dearest (and not-so nearest and dearest), please think about what you buy – make sure it isn’t something that gets opened and then never looked at again, or something that’s made in a sweatshop, or something that’s funny for ten minutes but ends up in the dustbin….

That’s it, I’m not going to say any more… grumpy snail is off to cook dinner!

All I want for Christmas…

It’s that time of year again in Britain… TV adverts for toys and perfume, shops full of chocolate, shiny things and ‘gift packs’, people getting harassed and the implied pressure that we should all be having ‘fun’. Yes, Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming for most of the UK, but not for us snails! And why not? Well, here chez Snail we do not celebrate it… really, we don’t. We don’t give presents; we try, as far as possible, not to receive presents; we don’t have a decorated tree; and we don’t eat turkey. It may sound like a gloomy way to spend mid-winter but really, it’s not  – you should try it one year.

It all started one Christmas morning about 10 years ago. We had got up and had breakfast before settling down to open the array of presents that we had received. By this stage we had pretty much given up on giving each other many presents, opting instead for choosing some things together that we would enjoy – some films on dvd, for example, or a few cds. Most of the gifts that we had received were addressed to both of us, so we took it in turn to unwrap the parcels. I can’t remember now exactly what they contained, except they did include three jars of chutney (neither of us like chutney) and that amongst all the other things there was nothing that I really wanted.

It was at this moment that the penny dropped with me that Christmas was simply a big disappointment… it was never going to be that magical event I remembered from my childhood. We used to put the Christmas tree up and decorate it soon before Christmas day, and then on Christmas eve, we disappeared into our rooms to wrap presents before placing them under the tree. I never believed in Father Christmas – I knew that presents came from my parents, family and friends; I knew that they were special because someone had chosen them for me (and spent money on  me). I also knew the joy of giving… in my younger days I loved buying gifts for other people; in fact, I still do.

But suddenly on that morning 10 years ago I realised that present-giving had become an obligation… that at Christmas it had become essential to give gifts simply because it was Christmas. And so we stopped. The following September, we wrote to all our friends and family telling them that, henceforth, we would not be sending them a gift at Christmas and asking them not to send us anything. We explained that we would be giving a donation to charity from now on, and if they wanted to reciprocate, they could do the same. We suggested that, alternatively, they could use any money they would have spent on us on themselves – to a buy something they would really enjoy and that they really wanted. And, everybody entered into the spirit of it… we gave money to Practical Action and our friends gave to Help the Aged, Oxfam and various other good causes.

Subsequent Christmases have been very peaceful – no mad rush to ‘prepare’, no stress, just a quiet time at home enjoying mid-winter, ordering next year’s seeds and being thankful that the shortest day is past. A couple of Christmas days we went to a local dog rescue and walked the poor unwanted dogs… enjoying sandwiches and hot coffee for Christmas lunch, before returning home to watch Doctor Who on the TV. In recent years the weather has kept us at home, but either way we have had good days.

Gift-giving has not ceased, it’s just that these days we buy gifts when we see something we think our friends might like… this means that sometimes someone gets several gifts in quick succession, then nothing for ages. We always, however, send any gifts immediately, so that they arrive at random times throughout the year. And this too is reciprocated by some… my sister is especially enthusiastic about the idea and will often send something lovely through the post because she thought one of us might like it.

I am delighted to have removed myself from the current commercialism and greed that seems to have pervaded this time of year; to contribute no longer to the heaps of plastic paraphernalia that seem to have become an essential feature; to buy simply for the sake of it.

All that said, I do have a lovely day with my sweetie!

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