How to have an ethical Winterval

Ask Ethan: Our columnist offers tips for having resource-neutral fun during the silliest of seasons.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

Christmas is here….again. I always seem to end up broke, tired and chained to the kitchen sink during this silliest of seasons – but the children do so love it. I’d like to be ethical this year, but I don’t want to disappoint the kids. How can I give to them without taking too much from our fragile planet?

Maureen St John Carlisle

Dear Maureen,

I’ve received a ton of letters on this topic. (Note to readers: ‘ton of letters’ is just a saying. I deal only in email via my solar-powered computer. Under no circumstances should you write to me on paper. It will go straight into my eco-shredder.) Many people seem to think that being ethical at ‘Christmas’ (I prefer the non-denominational Winterval, or the zany ‘Crimbo’!!) means being miserable and curmudgeonly. Not a bit of it! We ethical livers know how to have a seasonal knees-up that is fun for all the family – the entire human, animal and plant family, that is. (After all, even Santa used to wear a green hat and leaves before the Coca Cola capitalists re-branded him!)

It’s the unethical Christmas that is no fun. How much misery is caused by families sinking into debt as they try to keep up in the materialist rat race? As the Beatles said some 40 years ago: ‘I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend, if it makes you feel all right… but money can’t buy me love.’ (It goes without saying that you should not buy diamond rings for any of your friends; diamond-mining is a blot on the African landscape, and apparently it also exploits African labour.) So forget the expensive gifts, and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. They may not be free, but at least they’re resource-neutral.


Firstly, a dead tree does not bring life to a room; it merely reminds us of the horrors of deforestation. Instead, use your imagination and make your own decorations using recycled paper. Why not use the brightly coloured paper that falls on your mat in the form of junk mail – that way you can make decorations and subvert our culture of excessive consumption all at the same time! Do not put up any Christmas lights; as we know, our addiction to electricity will plunge the planet into darkness eventually. (Email me for more information on my campaign to have those who cover their houses in electrified Santas and thousands of bulbs branded ‘climate criminals’.)


Don’t fork out to the fat cats who own the big stores. Make your own gifts instead. I remember with great fondness making striking and useful presents – including a doll’s house constructed from toilet rolls! – by following the instructions on that marvellous programme, Blue Peter. Don’t use sticky-back plastic, though, as those naughty Blue Peter presenters did. Whatever Swedish warblers Aqua might think, NOTHING looks fantastic in plastic. Instead stick things together using a flour-and-water paste; if, occasionally, things fall apart, that is useful reminder, especially for the kids, of the fragility of our existences.

Or why not recycle a gift from a previous year, and pass old presents on to new people? Admittedly, there’s some potential for offence here. There was a frosty atmosphere over the nut roast last year after I innocently gave Sheba’s mother, Marjorie, an unused fondue set, only to be reminded that she gave it to us the year before! Frankly it was her own fault: why give a gift based on melted cheese to a vegan household? As the kids’ t-shirts say, Marjorie: ‘Cows are people, too.’

A festive feast

Don’t eat turkey. Feeding an animal for months on end simply so that it can be electrocuted, plucked, mutilated and roasted is wasteful, bloody and cruel – as I explain to my children every Christmas morning. The best way to reduce food miles is to grow your own. This year I’ll be making herby cabbage and beetroot potato cakes from veg grown on our own allotment; the kids love them so much that they insist on sharing them with our dog, Springy. (Actually, her name is Silent Spring but, although she has quite a spring in her step, she’s never silent for long!) Email me for the recipe. If, however, you want a recipe for disaster, serve alcohol. The evil ethanol always causes arguments and bitterness. Go for elderflower cordial instead.

End on a musical note

Singing together at a community gathering can be great fun – although note, young people singing door-to-door for money is obviously anti-social behaviour. But why do so many Winterval songs (or ‘Christmas carols’ as some people insist on calling them) have lyrics that wallow in religious mythology, materialist insanity, animal cruelty or celebrations of feudalism? Don’t people think about what they’re singing?

Take The 12 Days of Christmas. On the first day – the first day – we’re told that the singer was given a partridge in a pear tree. Quite apart from the impracticalities of giving someone an entire pear tree, who or what gives anybody the right to trade in partridges? If you add up the various gifts in that ditty, you’ll see that all the following are treated like chattel: 23 birds, 17 women and 23 musicians. Like so many other carols, this one is speciesist, misogynistic and consumerist.

Why not take these wonderful tunes and add your own words? This is a creative activity for the whole family. When we sang our new, ethical words (very loudly!) at the local carol concert, the mumblings of approval from the audience were most heartening – so much so that the vicar, probably worried that we might detract from his message about ‘God’, asked us to leave. Have a thoughtful and self-sufficient holiday, one and all!

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions on ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}.

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Topics Politics


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