13 December 2019

A Conscious Christmas




Christmas means different things to different people. Food, drinks, gift giving and mass merriment make it one of the western world's best-loved holidays. But many of us have forgotten the ancient roots of Christmas, and the fact that this period gives us an opportunity for reflection, connection and renewal.

Festivals like Christmas are intimately tied to human history both in the secular world and across all religions, 'designed to put a place in the diary for psychologically important ideas'. Only in recent times has the spirit of Christmas been overshadowed by consumerism. So, without taking away from the festivities, let's reclaim the true meaning behind this ancient marker of winter. Let's bring intention to the festive period and with it, awareness of our impact on people and the planet.

THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

In nature, winter is a time of dormancy. Plants curl inward or die, animals hibernate and everything slows down. This invites us humans to go within, restore energy and make plans for the approaching spring.

The peak of winter and the beginning of the Christmas period is marked by the winter solstice, also known as Midwinter or Yule. This commemorates the shortest day of the year on the 21st December with most darkness before the days begin to lengthen again into spring. Like the summer solstice at the opposite end of the calendar, Midwinter is a celebration of the sun and a reminder that we owe everything to it - notleast our understanding of time and the seasons.

This celebration of the returning sun and the slow ending of the dark winter months sets the scene for rebirth and regeneration in our own lives. It's an opportunity to reflect on the year that's passed and set intentions or 'sow seeds' for the next stage to come. So, the ideal winter solstice ritual is to ask and answer questions like,

What in my life is now coming to an end?
What do I want to let go of?
What new qualities or goals do I want to bring about?

MINDFUL BUYING & ETHICAL GIFT GIVING

Gift giving is not unique to Christmas. Many rituals, both pagan and religious, involve making offerings of some kind. Yet the basic idea of generosity and care has been clouded over by the consumerist explosion that defines Christmas in the modern world. Piles and piles of stuff bought just for the sake of it, millions of tonnes of waste generated by gimmicks and joke presents, plastic wrapping made and bought only to be torn and discarded, more clothes, more money for the vendors and more stress on the planet.

By definition, a conscious Christmas means gifting more mindfully to leave a positive impact on people and the planet. Here are some ideas:

-> Experiences not objects - take someone out for dinner. Buy tickets to a concert. Buy a membership for a museum or charity organisation.

-> Make, don't buy - biscuits, candles, chutneys, perfumes, chocolate. It's probably too late for this now, but a homemade piece of knitwear is always a winner.

-> Buy second hand - If you're buying, first explore the second hand market. Charity shops, vintage stores, eBay and Gumtree. Check out this second-hand Gumtree gift list.

-> Buy ethical - If you must buy new, source ethical/sustainable/organic brands and read between the lines (not everyone who calls themselves sustainable actually is). The Soil Association has a list of organic skincare brands.

-> Buy local - Finally if you must buy new, choose small, independent makers and suppliers over big brands. Look up local craftspeople and artisans in your area, or check out Etsy for things like ceramics.

-> Give something back - Christmas gift-giving is really about devotion and generosity. It's the perfect time to offer yourself to a cause or a person in need.

Oh, and skip on the shiny wrapping paper - use newspaper or brown craft paper and natural twine instead of ribbons.

CONSCIOUS EATING & DRINKING

Like all festivals, food and drink is the centre piece of our Christmas celebrations. We get thrown in head first to a tidal wave of social gatherings, all involving lots of food and alcohol. Many of us end the festive period feeling exhausted and unhealthy - the antithesis of rebirth and regeneration that this season is supposed to bring about. Rather than forcing ourselves into a January detox that feels like punishment, we could just consume more mindfully throughout the festive period.

To eat and drink mindfully means to do so consciously rather than out of habit or social norm. It means eating and drinking slowly and with awareness, actually enjoying the food and drink more by really tasting it rather than just shoving it in. It means listening to the body's indicators of what is OK and what might be doing harm; stopping when full.

Conscious eating and drinking means feeling gratitude for the abundance of Christmas Day, something most people in the world will never get the chance to enjoy.

MORE RESOURCES

Ethical Gift Guide by Izzy Mcleod
Ethical Gift Guide by Becky Pink
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