Saturday, December 01, 2007

The ghost of Christmas future

A journalist drops me an e mail. “Wonder if you can help?” she writes. “I'm planning a feature for Prima magazine on women who will be celebrating Christmas in different ways this year. I’m looking for a mum whose family will be celebrating a very eco-friendly Christmas - ideally cooking a meal using some of their own produce, giving sustainable gifts, or in some way generally rejecting a lot of the commercialised junk that often accompanies the season! I wondered if your family might fit the bill?” I write back and decline. “The truth is that the Carbon family Christmas is a plastic, greedy and environmentally damaging affair,” I reply. But as I press send, and imagine it winging its way to London, I see what a terrible admission that is. If an eco worrier can’t cut down on waste at Christmas then what chance have the consumers of women’s magazines got?

If it was up to Carbonlite, Christmas would have been cancelled in our house years ago. And the Carboncopies aren’t to blame for all the waste either. Their list this year consists of a modest chocolate pooing reindeer and candy grabber. I admit I’m part of the problem. In my mind Christmas should be fun and present filled, and full of all the traditions I enjoyed as a child. I know we can’t carry on mindlessly shopping, destroying trees and over-consuming, but if I’m honest, I don’t want it all to end just yet; not while my children are children. I still remember not receiving my requested ‘Girls World’ make-up mannequin when I was seven, and am of the opinion that Santa should honour all reasonable requests. I make a list of how we can cut down on our Yuletide Carbon Footprint while still keeping the fun. First on the list is transport. Could we cycle to church, the supermarket and Santa’s grotto? Can we source our sprouts locally? I gleefully strike the annual trip to the mother in law’s house in London off the calendar. I ask the Carboncopies what else they think should be on my list. “Turn the tree lights off when we leave the room?” the youngest suggests. “Let’s not have turkey,” says the oldest. “Me like chocolate poos, me no like turkey,” says the Carbonbaby, running with the food theme. I decide to ring the council to find out what their environmental people recommend. “When Christmas shopping, use less carrier bags and more cotton bags; compost your peelings; recycle trees, buy presents that are less wasteful,” a council officer reels off down the phone. “Don’t just get people an extra bit of something random, buy an experience day, or a goat. There are so many people that have got the gadgets, the gismos and all the CD’s they want, but if you still have to get them something then there’s ways of doing it without ending up with loads of stuff cluttering the house and landfill.” I cast my mind back to the day my brother bought Carbonlite a goat for his 40th birthday instead of season 5 of ‘24.’ He wasn’t exactly overjoyed. But then I think of all the unwanted Christmas DVD’s rotting in the ground for the next 200 years and shiver. The ghost of Christmas future has walked over my grave.

I begin to search charity shops for presents for my extended family and pick up some unexpected treasures. A neighbour offers to sell me some unwanted and unopened games and I accept. I buy baby presents at the nearly new sale. We get down last years cards to make our own tags. My mother rings. “I’ve seen a beautiful rocking horse for the Carbonbaby,” she tells me. I rush to cut her off. “She doesn’t like them, they scare her,” I reply. “Oh good, then I’ll get a baby Annabel. And a cot. And all the accessories.” “She has dolls,” I cry. “Five of them.” “But not a baby Annabel” says my Mother firmly. “They’re all the same!” I shout. She puts the phone down in a huff muttering that we’ll have to come over soon to collect three bin bags full of presents. I suddenly have a vision of last year’s Christmas, surrounded by plastic toys, plastic packaging and acres of wrapping paper and I find I can’t remember a single present she bought them that they’ve still got or have actually played with. I start to feel angry. Such a waste of money and the planet’s scarce resources. Meanwhile, wall to wall adverts play behind me on TV offering cut price sofa’s, hoovers, and thousands of plastic toys. Carbonlite breezes in and smiles. I ask him how he’d improve Christmas this year. “That’s easy, no presents,” he says grinning. The Carboncopies howl. My mother rings again to say she’s seen a ‘ride’ for the Carbonbaby. I sigh, realizing what a lot of work lies ahead to ensure future Christmases for our carbon heavy planet.