Monday, 19 December 2016

Our Alternative Christmas

For the last few years our December team meeting has morphed into a pre-Christmas mini-binge – turkey and nut roast sandwiches, warmed mince pies, mulled grape juice…. And Havin’ a Laugh.

This year – in the spirit of recognising that Christmas isn’t always an easy time for some of us – we decided to try something completely different.

We thought about surfing at Borth… climbing to the source of the Severn… exploring the sculpture park at Lake Vyrnwy… or kayaking the rapids of the River Wye… In the end we went to Rock Park in Llandrindod Wells (home to a former spa centre established in the Victorian era) and spent 2 hours litter picking and leaf collecting. It was wet. A bit muddy. But also exhilarating. We laughed a lot. We learnt stuff. It was genuinely team building. And the best December team meeting ever.

Amongst other things, we discovered that the leaves of the park’s ginkgo tree contain ginkgolides, which could improve blood circulation to the brain …. And that a lithium well was discovered at Rock Park in 1906 by Mr Heighway… (it's housed in the shed in the photograph).

Afterwards over lunch we exchanged more ideas about how to go about creating the Christmas Festival Fringe at home on the Big Day itself…

Anne: wishing for a festival of light!

For me, Christmas is a trigger for feelings of anxiety, which starts several weeks before with worrying about buying presents that people will like. As a result, I tend to put it off, leaving it to the last minute, which then creates more stress. It’s hard not to get caught up in the commercialisation and put pressure on myself, which doesn’t come from family and friends. So I suppose my fantasy Christmas would have less emphasis on giving and receiving material gifts. Or I’d employ a personal shopper!

I’ve often considered creating spiritual rituals that are meaningful to me at this time of year. My fantasy Christmas might include being outside in nature (weather permitting!), making the most of the light in the day and a bonfire in the evening. One year, I went to Stonehenge at dawn on the Winter Solstice, and then to Avebury Stone Circle, as it felt important to mark the shortest day. I like the idea of a festival of light to counteract the long, dark, winter evenings; something that has a big impact on my mood at this time of year. If money was no object then I would go away somewhere warm and sunny in the winter to top up on vitamin D until the days start getting longer again.

Carla’s No Cooking Christmas!

In our family, we did away with slaving over a hot stove for days on end and have exchanged turkey and trimmings for deli platters and paper plates. Essentially, this means that shopping for Christmas food doesn’t involve battling crowds in the supermarket but does involve spending a leisurely afternoon browsing small independent shops or jamming a queue at a deli counter somewhere. The kids and I pick salamis and cold meats, sample different cheeses before buying, choose which items to splash out on for the special ‘treat’ items (stuffed baby peppers are my favourite) and only have to pop to a big store to buy the fancy paper plates and crackers. I set a budget before we go shopping and when it’s gone - it’s gone.

On Christmas day, everything is put out on the table on throw-away foil platters from the pound aisle, the oven goes on to heat the ‘bake at home’ bread and paper plates are handed out to whoever the guests are - this can change at any point throughout the day as people drift by to say Happy Christmas and have a drink or two!

We eat, we snooze, we drink, we eat again and then all plates are put in the bin, leftovers stuck in the fridge and the next day we can get back to ‘normal’ - or just do it all over again with new plates! No stress, no fuss, no waste, no turkey sandwiches/curry/soup and buying the food can suit even the tiniest of budgets. One year, I bought everything we wanted from our local supermarket on Christmas Eve and it came to about £20.

Christmas doesn’t have to be a chore nor does it have to be the same every year - this year our family are NOT ‘magicing’ our Christmas tree and may have to resort to more conventional methods - but that’s another blog post . . .

Jackie: Digging Christmas!

Ever since moving to our house in the Upper Severn Valley 20 years ago I have been a bit of a mad keen gardener… and tradition now has it that every Christmas Day involves gardening in some form or other. Depending on the weather this could be chipping parsnips out of frozen compost in a style not dissimilar to that used on an archaeological dig… rescuing a willow bean tripod from the top of an ash tree in a gale… or scraping snow off the polytunnel before the metal hoops crumple under the weight….

But the highlight of all Christmas Gardening Days past was the one where I found an old Victorian sixpence dated 1875 in the ground whilst digging out self-seeded holly trees. I would have rushed off to order a metal detector there and then (well in the Boxing Day sales anyway) except the ground all around was found to be full not of treasure but buried refuse – not exactly the Staffordshire Hoard – rather the site of some 1950s fly-tipping…half-bricks galore.

Christmas in our house is a time for planning the gardening season ahead. Full of hope. Anticipation. And some concerns… Will the heritage seed beetroots finally plump up…? The spring frosts stay at bay…? The million hungry rodents be herded up and dispatched by resident cats …? The recycled tin baths moisture retentive and slug-proof for carrots to thrive…? The elusive horse manure finally appear magically at the end of our drive…?

Whatever 2017 brings in the world outside my valley… I can’t wait to get my hands dirty again in the confines of my garden oasis. (If you fancy gardening and don’t have a patch of your own, there are community gardens all around Powys).

Jane: Fantasy Christmas meets Reality!

My fantasy Christmas would be one where I had actually got my act together and was well prepared! Each year I stubbornly refuse to even think about Christmas until December - and then I am surprised by how quickly it seems to arrive! We would book an enormous house so that all the extended family could come, everyone would get on well, there would be harmonious sharing of chores and all the various traditions would miraculously work together so that everyone felt that they had had a part in such a wonderful shared time - so that should show what a general fantasist I am!

I’ve never done anything that out of the ordinary at Christmas myself - last year I was proud of my daughter and husband who took a car-load of donations to the refugee camp in Calais and volunteered there for a few days in between Christmas and New Year.

On balance I think that having a time of coming together and sharing food, gifts and conviviality at the darkest point of the year is a good thing - and if you are a Christian then it’s a good thing to celebrate the birth of Christ too. There isn’t any easy way to balance that with the fact that for a lot of people it is also a very difficult time - I am inclined to think that the gross (to my mind) level of consumerism, the overcomplicating of it all and the relentless emphasis on the fun, party side of Christmas with no mainstream, non-religious acknowledgement of the importance of reflection and quiet thought as a component of the rest of the festive season adds to the sense of isolation and loneliness that some people feel at Christmas.

And finally...

These ideas and approaches may or may not work for you. But perhaps they could kickstart a different way of thinking about the traditional Christmas. And if you opt for the alternative approach, we would love to hear from you in the comments box below.

Most important of all, do something that makes you happy. And if you need extra help over the festive season – it’s out there. Wellness and Recovery Learning Centres around Powys are open at some point over Christmas and the New Year and would welcome your visit. Check their opening times on websites, details here. You can link to national helplines here.

If you need help urgently find information here.

Happy Christmas, whether Traditional or Alternative suits you best. And see you in 2017.

Photos feature Newtown's Christmas-themed town centre in December 2016


  1. lovely blog, full of nice ideas and refreshing thoughts on different and 'new' traditions. Many thanks

    1. Hi Sophia

      We had a great day at Rock Park last week - thanks to the rest of the team for being such good sports with the blog ideas!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!