Tucked away in a row of 18th century almshouses just behind Hoxton Overground station, the Geffrye Museum of the Home is one of London’s real hidden gems. Examining the homes of the urban middle classes over the last four hundred years, the museum is divided up into a number of different ‘living rooms’ which each represent – and are decorated in the style of – a different time period.
Today, when we think of a ‘traditional’ Christmas, it is a Victorian-style celebration we are envisioning. Christmas trees, crackers, pantomimes, cards – all these now-familiar seasonal things were either invented or popularised by the Victorians. There are, however, three people in particular who are now considered mostly responsible for the creation of what is today seen as a very British, very Victorian take on Christmas – although, strangely enough, only one of them was actually a Brit!
The first of this trio was a member of the royal family. The introduction of the Christmas tree to Britain is traditionally thought to be down to Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert. However, it is more likely that it was George III’s German wife, Queen Charlotte, who brought the first tree to Britain – Albert merely popularised them.
In the early years of their marriage, Victoria encouraged German Christmas customs to make her husband feel more at home in Britain, and approving press coverage meant that it wasn’t long before the Christmas tree became wildly popular with the British people. The middle classes, in particular, were soon copying this royal idea in their own homes, decorating their trees with candles, small toys and gifts, cards, sweets and other goodies (like sugar plums – see below).
Christmas is supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill, but it usually ends up as the season of conspicuous consumption and excess. Just think of all those Christmas lights, and the several forests worth of wrapping paper and cards we each use every year – let alone the number of trees that are chopped down for seasonal decoration and all the food that goes to waste each Christmas. Multiply that by every family in the country – and then the world – and it ends up being not very environmentally friendly at all.
However, it is actually possible to have a great Christmas while still being as green (and as ethical) as possible – and that doesn’t mean being revoltingly worthy about it all, either. It’s all about taking small steps to becoming more environmentally friendly: it all soon builds up. So here are a few simple and practical ideas to make your Christmas a greener celebration without costing the earth, either financially or environmentally…