Christmas is not about consumerism but we’ve got into the habit of giving gifts to show love — Philip Lymbery

Christmas is about the people, not the presents (Picture: Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images)

Twinkling fairy lights, the fragrance of fir and spice, and a glowing fire in the hearth surrounded by brightly wrapped presents.

The excited chatter of children, wide-eyed at the promise of Santa coming to town. The cooking of Christmas fare. Rewatching old Bond movies and falling asleep — just a few things that conjure up the magic of Christmas.

Whatever the memory, whatever the magic, I have always believed that it’s those around the tree — not the things underneath it — that make Christmas. Our family and friends, our companion animals, our nearest and dearest. It’s these human connections that matter and give added purpose to our lives.

For so many of us, it’s the ‘coming together’ and ‘coming home’, that is the true celebration.

The shared adversity of living through a pandemic has shone a light on what really matters — not the place, the presents, or the food, but the people we share it with. The love, affection and good times together. The memories that we create. The festive respite from the frantic, often disconnected nature of modern life that can make coming together as families so much harder.

In our fast-paced world, full of material offerings, it’s all too easy to get carried away and live in our own Christmas bubble.

What I’m really excited about is how this connectivity is being used not only to help people enjoy their festivities, but also to help in the wider community.

As more people tragically struggle with the economic fallout of the Covid pandemic, research by the Trussell Trust is forecasting a 61 per cent increase in the need for food parcels this winter compared to last year. People and organisations, supermarkets and hospitality businesses, are responding by gathering or donating food items, or volunteering to help at their local food banks. There are currently an estimated 2,200 food banks in the UK.

Given the increased pressure on household budgets brought about by the pandemic, rising food prices, higher energy costs and cuts to government benefits, it makes the high level of waste at this time of year all the more sobering.

Olio, an app that connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away, conducted a recent study into our Christmas gift habits.

It found that more than 40 per cent of people in the UK admitted to having thrown unwanted presents in the bin after the big event. According to the research, more than a third may well have thrown them away while doing a Boxing Day clean-up.

Which begs the question, has consumerism taken over Christmas? One could argue that the constant cycle of updated new products feeds our desire for the next new thing.

The emphasis on switching out old but functioning products for new ones prioritises consumerism over connection, efficiency and sustainability. Estimates suggest that we spend an extra £500 during the Christmas period, but that’s often because we wish to show others that we care about them, we want to demonstrate our love and friendship, and we tend to do that through the things we buy.

Encouragingly, the heightened awareness around the climate emergency in the wake of the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last month has made many of us much more conscious about sustainability at Christmas, and throughout the year.

Tesco’s Christmas Report this year highlights how over a third of Brits now aim to be more sustainable over the festive period. Half say that concerns about the environment will affect their purchasing choices, and that they plan to reuse old Christmas decorations. A third pledge to use up leftovers.Clothing brand Superdry, with its strong commitment to build a positive environmental legacy, has also looked into our festive sustainability habits, and it found that there has been a 23 per cent increase in searches for sustainable gifts this year.

Furthermore, Superdry reported that internet searches for vegan Christmas recipes had gone up 83 per cent — perhaps in part due to the upsurge in the promotion of plant-based foods during the climate talks and a recognition that reducing our meat consumption is a recognised way to keep healthy and reduce emissions.

No surprise then that 4.5 million plant-based ‘turkeys’ were also consumed in the US during Thanksgiving this year. Could this be the precursor to a new food trend in the UK too this Christmas?

It’s great news that people are increasingly thinking about doing their bit to help the planet as part of enjoying our festive holidays.

If Christmas is about people coming together in warmth and love at the coldest time of the year on the only planet we are ever likely to know, it is only right that we are as gentle on the Earth as we try to be on ourselves and one another.

Because, when all is said and done, we all know deep down that it’s not the present you give, or receive that will endure, it’s the love and warmth you feel from everyone you meet.

It’s knowing in your heart that this is what matters, and that the new memories and new choices you make this festive period will last a lifetime.

Philip Lymbery is the global chief executive of Compassion in World Farming International and a United Nations Food Systems Champion. He is on Twitter @philip_ciwf

Note: This article was first published in The Scotsman on Monday 20th December, 2021

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