Think there’s too much excess at Christmas? I can’t get enough of it

It's that time of year when many start to worry about the amount we waste

Share
Related Topics

Christmas Day lunch is the ideal target for the newest but already most tedious Christmas tradition of them all: the ritual moan about the terrible excess and waste.

You know, all that money spent on too much food, of which too much is eaten, too much is thrown away and too much is bad for you. I’ve been as guilty of this as the next party hat refusenik. Yet I wonder whether the Yuletide vices we loathe are just the shadows cast by the festive virtues, and we can totally escape the dark side only by destroying the splendours that block the light.

Start with the alleged excess. Any celebration meal to which guests are invited, be they family or friends, should be an occasion for generous hospitality. You don’t offer just enough, so that people are afraid to take what they want so as not to deprive others. You offer plenty, so everyone can help themselves freely. Cooking for 20 when half that number are eating is silly, but it is miserly to try too hard to make sure there is one portion each, no more.

But, the misery guts insist, doesn’t this create waste? To which the answer is: what waste? Christmas leftovers need never be thrown away. Sprouts and roast potatoes make excellent Boxing Day bubble and squeak, roast vegetables the tastiest soups, cold meats the best sandwiches. It’s not leftovers that are wasteful, but those who either don’t know what to do with them or can’t be bothered. That isn’t pious middle-class greenery; it’s traditional thrifty good sense.

Still, the purists insist, isn’t it terrible that people inevitably eat and drink too much, reduced by mid-afternoon to simulacra of snoring whales, beached on sofas? Perhaps, but the desire to let go at Christmas is tied to a collective folk memory of when the rest of the year was much more sober. As a trivial example, one of the things I most looked forward to about childhood Christmases was the selection box, containing half a dozen bars of chocolate with perhaps a packet of Opal Fruits thrown in just to spite you. This was an unbelievably indulgent treat. I even ate the Caramac, and I still can’t tell you exactly what it was supposed to be.

As the age of austerity drags on, more and more families are finding that day-to-day frugality has not been consigned to history. In that context, letting rip once a year is a much-needed release. If we want to complain, it should be that we are not restrained enough the other 364 days, not that we go mad on this one.

The most serious objection to excess is the heartbreaking sight of parents running up debts to give their children the “perfect” Christmas they can’t afford. Any joy that brings is cancelled out tenfold by the pain it brings in the new year. But we should understand the impulse and not just condemn where it leads. Too many moralists fail to appreciate why people feel a real need to make one day a year really special. In my experience, those who make the biggest fuss about not spending much at Christmas are generally the ones who buy what they want and eat where they want 12 months a year.

The final argument against the vulgar excess is that it is not how much is spent, but what it’s spent on. People should make their own cakes and puddings instead of buying highly processed supermarket versions. But handmade offerings are not always cheaper, and nor do they necessarily show the most love. What they mainly show off is how much time and culinary skill the maker has.

Although I agree that people would do well to buy less stuff, but better quality, this case is undermined by the unrealistic examples: free-range rare-breed turkeys, a good bottle of claret or three, or Stilton hand made by biodynamic shepherds. This “let them eat polenta cake” attitude is patronising and deeply out of touch. You can feed a family of four all day with what it takes just to furnish a decent artisan cheeseboard.

There is an argument to be had about whether or not all the apparent savings people make really are good value, and whether cheap food is sustainable in the first place. But this is not the time: the only kind of argument we should have during the season of goodwill is a huge flaming family one over a huge flaming Christmas pud.

And even that reflects something good. We live at a time that celebrates freedom and autonomy, where we choose our friends and when we see them. Christmas is a rare occasion when we are reminded that we have obligations to people we did not choose to be related to, and that love is not just a spontaneous feeling but something we sometimes really have to work at, with people we may not even much like. The only way to guarantee no festive friction is to avoid all Christmas contact, so that families become not so much  dispersed as dissolved.

Those who recoil at the image of somewhat tense families gathered around tables, eating too much of the wrong things, are really recoiling at the awkward truth that many, if not most of us, live lives where family relationships are complicated, joys are infrequent and pressures permanent. This sadness behind the desperate attempts at Christmas jollity is there whether we acknowledge it or not. We should go gentle on our flawed attempts to overcome it, for one day at least. No one should be such a Scrooge as to refuse to raise a glass of Babycham to that.

Julian Baggini is the co-founder of ‘The Philosophers’ Magazine’

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Project Coordinator - Cisco Partner - £110 p/d

£110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator (SC Cleared), Cisco Go...

KYC Analyst, Birmingham - £200-£250 p/d

£200 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: KYC Analyst, Key Banking Client, Bi...

Test Manager - Banking - Yorkshire - £450 per day

£400 - £500 per day: Orgtel: Test Manager - Banking - West Yorkshire - £400-£5...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

John Hegarty
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone