What does the word Christmas mean to you? asks Fionnuala Harkin. For many, it evokes warm feelings of comfort and joy, for others, the dread of all the work involved in entertaining, or the stress of shopping and getting the perfect gifs for everyone, not to mention the financial fallout to face in January. While the festive season can be a time to catch up with friends and family and show our appreciation for people in our lives, it can be a bit of a monster if we don’t keep it under control.
At a recent meeting of the Clonakilty Humanist group, ways in which the pressure on both people and the planet could be minimised at this time of excess, were discussed. Humanism is about personal responsibilityá, and bring aware of how our actions affect others, so we think we have found a very practical way to help the planet while reducing stress: shop local. This one simple action can have outstandingly positive results which last long after the decorations have been packed away, and the hangover has been cured with a vow to never do that again!
Giving a gift bought from a local business is giving a gift of community, a legacy both real and ideological for our children. It is a vital boost for the traders who make our West Cork towns the envy of many visitors, who bemoan the lack of life and atmosphere in many other Irish towns and villages. Most of our towns have free parking, which is a welcoming gesture, as well as a very real incentive to shop there. Handing your hard earned money over the counter to the shop owner, your neighbour who works there, or your daughter who has a part-time job there while struggling through college…how much nicer is that that sending it through cyberspace to some warehouse with questionable working conditions?
Keeping money circulating in the local area is an obvious advantage of shopping local, but the planet gains too. The amount of packaging we have to dispose of with each parcel that arrives by courier, acres of unnecessary plastic, cardboard and polystyrene, is disastrous for the environment, both in its production and disposal. This is all avoided by buying our goods locally.
There was a lot of outrage at the recent images of the waste left over after Electric Picnic. Much discussion followed in the media and around kitchen tables about the lack of concern for the planet by those responsible – could they not enjoy themselves without destroying the environment? Sadly this waste pales beside the detritus to be dealt with in January. Food, packaging, trees, decorations, cards, defunct electronics all have to be dumped. This Christmas, just a little bit of thought about what’s left over could seriously reduce the damage and keeping our business local can really help. For one thing, we have more control over the packaging, but there are so many other advantages. Putting our money to good use can be done in many ways. All our West Cork towns have great shops supporting the work of artists and artisan producers, who all need our support to survive. This again adds to the charm of our towns, encouraging visitors who keep the hospitality sector going. And where would we be without art? Or bookshops? Over the last number of years so many bookshops have gone out of business, and we are so lucky to have wonderful booksellers to visit, browse and inspire our children. Of course, there is also the pleasure of stopping for lunch, coffee, a hot whiskey and bumping into friends on the same mission.
The food and food producers of West Cork are the envy of the country and what better time to treat ourselves to some of the wonderful cheese, salami, paté, pesto, chutney, cake, bread…the list goes on, which is available in our shops and markets. At a time when the provenance of what we eat is hard to understand or trust, buying locally grown, prepared and distributed food is one way to guarantee we know what we’re eating. Farmers markets provide us with a great opportunity to buy meat from humanely reared animals, as do our butcher shops. The markets are also a great source of handmade gifts, be they edible, wearable, usable or just nice to look at. Charity shops also need our support and provide a great sustainable shopping option. Don’t forget, it’s not second-hand, it’s vintage!
Christmas shopping can be a frantic and stressful activity or we can choose to be mindful. Making good choices can have such a positive effect. We can give the gift of community, of memories through experiences shared with our children, family or friends. We can encourage our children to play their part in the future of their community, in turning the tide on the destruction caused by mindless consumption.
So, if Christmas is a time to celebrate, let’s celebrate the beauty of our world. Let’s rejoice in the thriving and convivial communities we are a part of, and lets leave a light footprint and a positive legacy, which promises a brighter future for us all.
To join Clonakilty Humanist group email firstname.lastname@example.org.