Consuming Issues: The A to Z of Christmas


A Allspice. Traditional Christmas pudding contains the unripe fruit of Pimenta dioica along with other imports: nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, sultanas, raisins, and brown sugar. Natural England would rather we feasted on Kentish cobnuts or vanilla ice cream. If there's any day to celebrate our fortune in consuming food out of the reach of a medieval king, it's 25 December.

B Behaviour. According to the author of Human Nature and the New Economics, Pete Lunn, shoppers are easily confused and highly suggestible, making them easy prey for marketing: "The advert tells you Nintendo is a family game that brings generations together, not an escape for teenage boys; or that whisky is a glass-clinking social warmer around the tree, not what we turn to when the wine has run out."

C Cava or champagne? An £18 champagne may have citrus, toasty notes but £12 bottles of bubbly cost too many notes. If good bubbly is out of each, wine merchants tip a £6 vintage cava.

D Dash. The dreaded last-day Christmas sales splurge. See N for Negligee.

E EBay. From sofas to cycles, internet aution sites such as eBay offer many goods at a fraction of the high street price. New products can be bought straightaway and second-hand goods often have little wear and tear.

F Firewood. Create a warm winter glow. Unused chimneys can be swept and tested and offcuts of wood found in skips. Potentially, free fuel for the house and the soul.

G Goose. Seven per cent of homes will serve up a goose rather a turkey this year. How to cook one? Gordon Ramsay, the chef, advises setting the oven at full blast and allowing 15 minutes a kilo: "The flesh should feel firm with a bit of spring when lightly pressed." Check the middle is 70C with an electronic thermometer. See T for Turkey.

H Holly. Evergreen decoration for homes grows on trees, gratis. Holly berries are edible to skylarks and voles (but not humans).

I Insurance. A boring but rewarding subject. Shopping around for home, contents and motor insurance next year, though, could save hundreds of pounds. Enough for a free Christmas.

J Jumpers. Many men will find one under the tree. Knitwear and casual tops are popular, with sales up by 27 per cent and 21 per cent respectively this Christmas, say market researchers TNS.

K Kids. What Africans will be taking to market if given a "goat pair". Goats produce milk to sell or drink, fertilisers to grow crops and cash-generating kids. Oxfam.org.uk/shop/gifts says: "All gifts are dispatched within three working days by First Class post." That's the certificates, not the goats.

L Leftovers. The best way to prevent endless turkey meals is to plump for the right size. Recipes for Christmas pie and other money and waste-saving meals are available free on the net. See lovefoodhate waste.com.

M Merriment. No moping – bank holidays are few and far between. The English and Welsh have eight, the Scots nine, the Northern Irish 10, the French 10 and Germans between 9 and 13, depending on the state.

N Negligee. Men are incorrigible late shoppers. Twenty-something and thirty-somethings stalk lingerie departments on Christmas Eve. One (female) sales assistant made a game of selling the most absurd, lurid and expensive lace.

O Oranges. Once exotic, now "ordinary", oranges are in season and surprisingly delicious cut into quarters. Ideal, perhaps, for a refreshing half-time break on Christmas Day.

P Plastic. Material for most children's toys (see Q for Quality).

Q Quality. Greenpeace suggests buying fewer but better quality gifts this year. While they may cost more, they last much longer and are unlikely to be dumped in the attic.

R Re-gifting. Novelty ties/purple toilet seats/dodgy toiletry sets can be sold online or recirculated, using recycled wrapping paper. See W.

S Sales. "New Year" sales begin online on Christmas Day. Bargains can be had then, for big purchases such as washing machines and TVs, which may have sold out a few days later. Most "headline bargains", though, are thin on the ground once the sales begin, being mostly an opportunity to flog unpopular and out-of-date stock

T Turkey. The Food Standards Agency has a few tips to avoid a seasonal break being marred by food poisoning: defrosting a bird can take days, turkeys should be stored on the lowest shelf in the fridge so juices don't contaminate other food. Preheat the oven 180C and for a turkey under 4.5 kilos, allow 45 minutes per kilo plus 20 minutes; 4.5 to 6.5 kilos, 40 minutes per kilo; and over 6.5kilos, 35 minutes per kilo.

U Underwear. According to a survey by a self-acclaimed "British pants giant", 37 per cent of men say novelty underwear is an awful present. "Men can be particular about their Christmas pants," according Kiniki.com's spokesman John Walker. "Buy a boy who likes boxers, briefs and you'll get short shrift, and men are just as fussy about colour."

V Visa. Credit cards are obliged to take liability if a retailer doesn't come up with the goods or goes bust. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 covers sums between £100 and £30,000.

W Wrapping paper. A symbol of the throwaway society and always surprising, intact paper can be used again for smaller gifts. Large presents can be swaddled in newspapers.

X Xmas. Of which The Independent's style guide says: "NOT to be used (unless part of title or in a quote)." So, no mention of it here.

Y Yuletide. "Yule or Yule-tide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic peoples as a pagan religious festival," says Wikipedia, "though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas." A Yule log was burned in the hearth, bereft of chocolate icing.

Z Zzzz. A relaxing nap after a big meal. Have a good one.

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