Are you sitting comfortably… on the sofa, with your legs up, watching TV, wishing you hadn’t eaten so much, trying not to think about all the wrapping paper all screwed up on the floor? Good, then let me begin…

A little more than 2000 years ago a baby was born in abject poverty in a stable in the Middle East. During his short life he said and did many good things and helped a great deal of people. He helped the sick and the needy, the old and the decrepit, the downtrodden and the persecuted.

So far so good. But isn’t it a little ironic that we now celebrate his birth by buying lots of stuff that nobody needs with money that we don’t have? The average person in Britain spent £350 on presents this year at Christmas. It scares me to think of all the environmental destruction we’re causing with all this unnecessary consumption of energy and resources. But it actually sickens me to think of all the people around the world living in destitution, starving to death for want of a few pounds. It’s probably just as well you’ve already eaten your turkey. 

100 years ago Christmas was no doubt a different matter. Living here in Devon, everyone you knew would have been a Christian, and it would have been a time to come together as a community with friends and family and share good food and cheer. But now we live in an undeniably different world, a globalised world, where we live alongside people of many and varied beliefs. Christmas is a Christian festival and therefore excludes the majority of the world’s population. Most people aren’t even celebrating the birth of Jesus, it’s just a bad excuse for  a party.

Surely we can find something that is common to all to celebrate in the winter? The shortest day, midwinter is a time when we can all use some warmth and cheer amongst family, friends and neighbours and celebrate light in the darkness. Nobody is excluded from this celebration on account of their beliefs.

Of course people love to give at Christmas but instead of giving presents to those you know and who have enough,  why not give some money to charity instead? To people who have less than us? There are countless charities locally and all around the world that are doing amazing work to help people and planet. And it’s easier than ever before to make donations online with a few taps of the finger.

This year Velwell Orchard is more financially stable than it has every been thanks to the countless individual gifts that have come in over the year. So much so that I’m not going to appeal for any donations this year, but instead I’ve drawn up  a list of 12 charities I feel are worthy of support. So please, if you were considering giving some money to Velwell Orchard this winter, have a look through the list below and give generously to them instead.

Perhaps one day we’ll figure out a way of making midwinter celebrations relevant again.

  1. Yes To Life
    Inspired by the short life of Bryony Daly, former pupil at the South Devon Steiner School this charity supports people with cancer, helping to fund treatments not available on the NHS.
  2. Rowcroft Hospice
    Helping people in South Devon who have life limiting illnesses. I have a few personal friends who have benefitted hugely from this amazing team.
  3. The Hillyfield
    A sustainable community woodland in the Dartmoor National Park. Faced with planning issues, it needs some support!
  4. The White Helmets
    These volunteers are neutral, unarmed rescuers helping those injured by the war in Syria.
  5. Devon Wildlife Trust
    Supporting wildlife in Devon
  6. The Drop In
    A community run drop in centre in Totnes offering vital support to homeless people in desperate need.
  7. The Growing Project Pensilva
    A wonderful little project in Cornwall growing organic fruit and veg with the help of volunteers.
  8. Lifeworks
    Providing care, training and respite for people with learning disabilities in and around Dartington.
  9. Centrepoint
    A national organisation helping homeless young people.
  10. Landworks
    A charity on the Dartington Estate helping ex prisoners learn new skills.
  11. Devon Air Ambulance Trust
    In a county as remote as Devon the air ambulance is often the difference between life and death.
  12. The Biodynamic Land Trust
    Securing land for Biodynamic farming into the future.