The Winter Solstice falls on the 21st of December. In the northern hemisphere, this date marks the turning point of the season, the shortest day and the longest night. Nowadays at this time of year it is normal that people’s attention turns to celebrating Christmas, however, the ritual and history surrounding the solstice in this country and all over Europe, predate the arrival of Christianity by thousands of years and many festive celebrations have been adapted from much earlier traditions.
As Christmas approaches and our thoughts turn to buying gifts for loved ones and stocking up the larder, it’s worth spending a moment considering the benefits of choosing to shop local this year. It’s a unique situation because, not only does shopping locally benefit the community and the environment, it also benefits you, the consumer, in many different ways. Often the ethical choice can come at a cost, but shopping local can be a way of helping the community, as well as helping yourself. Whilst a lot of the benefits of shopping local come down to “the feel good factor”, there has been a lot of research into the quantifiably advantages. What it boils down to is that money spent in the community is more likely to stay in the community. For example, if you buy your potatoes from a local farmer, he then uses the money to buy a Christmas present from a local artist, who then in turn uses the money to buy beer from the local brewery who then use the money to employ extra staff. The cycle goes on and on. This contrasts sharply with buying online from a multinational company, many of whom don’t even pay tax in this country. German or continental Christmas markets have surged in popularity in city centres recently. They are fun and atmospheric and the novelty of something different is part of the attraction. I wonder if maybe Scottish people are a bit shy about what we do best, or maybe we take what we have here for granted. When I see people queuing up for a frankfurter and a glass of mulled wine, I wonder what would be the response in Germany if you had a stall selling Scottish venison and hot toddies. One of the biggest expenses for families this year will be the Christmas dinner and all the associated trimmings. Some things are unlikely to be grown locally, but there are now many producers organically farming turkeys, where they are freshly dispatched and packaged instead of being factory reared, frozen then transported half-way round the world. As an alternative to turkey, you could also have a cut of Scottish venison or the best of freshly landed seafood. Organic produce has been a real hot topic in recent years, but far more pertinent is the issue of food miles. Produce that has been small scale farmed and bought direct from the farmer is quite simply more environmentally friendly, fresh and better tasting than something that has an organic logo but has been mass produced, wrapped in plastic and flown thousands of miles. The Skye Farm Shop is a great place to start your Christmas shopping with a huge selection of treats, essentials and hampers, sourced and made in the Highlands. As well as eating local there are tremendous benefits to drinking local. If you are a whisky drinker then you are in luck, as some of the best whisky in the world is rarely more than a short journey away, but what many people don’t appreciate is that there is now a growing number of craft distillers producing top quality gins in small batches that easily better the mass produced and imported varieties we have grown up with. Gins reflect the character of the places they are distilled in, with many sourcing local botanicals for a truly local flavour. A hand distilled gin, organically made in small quantities with local water and seaweed from the beach - or a big brand alternative, made in vast quantities on an industrial estate with added chemicals. No contest surely.