Hartley Magazine

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Precious presents

Look around at this time of year and you’d be forgiven for believing the world has gone mad. Adverts on the television extolling expensive high tech cameras, diamond clad watches and perfumes named after ‘celebrities’ I’ve never even heard of. Either I’m getting old fast, and maybe I am, or the essence of Christmas has been lost in a rather disgusting, all consuming way. We’ve totally lost the plot.

Don’t get me wrong; Christmas is an ancient festival, originally to celebrate the return of the light, the rebirth of the sun at Winter Solstice. It was a time when life was literally dependent on the land and the food that it produced and totally dependent on the sun to warm the soil and provide light for plant growth – the sun was worshipped and revered for very good reasons. It’s hard to imagine the worry as the days shortened and the sun apparently weakened and waned, no wonder they celebrated the end of the dark days and the return of the sun. The Romans called the festival Saturnalia and created an indulgent celebration for the God of Sowing and Planting and the God of Fire, but there were many other variations of the theme. Over the centuries it has evolved from a nature inspired festival, where gifts of the most sumptuous, luxurious produce, would be offerings to the ‘gods’ to ensure that the turn of the wheel continues, to todays world of virtual wish lists, games consoles and a sea of landfill tat, plastic and gimmicks. Where will it end? With 99% of everything we buy ending up in landfill within 6 months, it could well all end there. That’s a pretty scary thought, but also a reflection of our throwaway society. The most precious gift we each have is the here and now, the precious present. It is all to easy to be looking back to things that make us unhappy or forward to things that we aim to do or dream of and forget about the present. So when you are with your loved ones this season or doing something you love, like gardening or pottering in the greenhouse, take a moment to notice that the present moment is precious.

We can all adjust the way we shop, not just for Christmas, but also for life. True gardeners already understand and appreciate the value of the environment. We grow our own food; we recycle, reuse and value precious resources. But is that enough? We can all be more selective about what we buy. Don’t buy gimmicks and tat that not only costs the earth, literally sometimes, but that may only generate a fleeting smile and maybe not. What’s the point? Surely there’s another way? Cut back on the gifts that have become an empty gesture. Offer your time or expertise instead; an evening babysitting for new parents, or an hours gardening for someone that can’t manage to garden for themselves. Give nature inspired gifts – A packet of seeds, bird food, a homegrown plant or some potted bulbs, a homemade door wreath, a pot of jam from the garden, something useful, personal and something that has taken your time and effort to create. When you do buy gifts for special people look at where they are made, choose local made crafts supporting small business that hasn’t been transported for miles, look at the materials that they are made from, and think about their longevity. If the kids have apparently got everything, appreciating nothing, then take them out for the day and spend some time with them creating precious memories that no one can take away, or give them a gift that gives back like one of the charity gifts that gives.

It’s a useful way to shop generally and can be applied to almost everything. We seem to be tangled up in a greedy society, surrounded by an excess that is bordering on grotesque and fuelled by the media, it’s time to take stock and evaluate the difference between need and greed. There are still things in life that are free and we need to give them our attention and value them. They may not pay the bills and we can’t always eat them but they can and do feed the soul and I for one will be searching a few more of them out this festive season. The greenhouse is a haven from the mad world and a place to explore a few more earthy ways to live. This Christmas you could well find me locked inside my greenhouse safe from the world outside, sowing seeds, potting up cuttings and planning and plotting for the year ahead.