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Last Friday some forty volunteers, friends of Ashridge and former staff members met  for a festive gathering at Hill Farm – Bob Davis travelled down from Norfolk to join in the camaraderie.

With the constant stream of so called bad news postulated by the British media, it is no wonder that we Brits worship the Christmas festival for the feel good factor – with so much choice available overindulgence is such a temptation!

Not surprisingly, spending time with family and friends (76%), giving presents (63%), and food and drink (57%), were the three things defining Christmas for most people in Britain, according to a recent survey by a leading market research group. The research showed that 91% of the British population celebrate Christmas in some shape or form, but that only 22% said that celebrating the birth of Christ makes Christmas an important time, suggesting that Christmas has become a fundamentally secular festival for most in the UK.

Why should you feel cheerful? Apparently our gross domestic product is down (GDP), we owe trillions to the banks and our productivity is low! So why this fixation on growth and consumption when we know that an infinite economic pursuit simply is not compatible with a planet of finite resources, and that it is environmentally damaging. Perhaps we are ready for a real conversation about what makes for a good life, rather than worshipping the god of growth and consumption. We need a new set of indicators that better reflect genuine well-being. Reducing working hours would be a start although it is anti-growth, but it would increase the amount of positive leisure time people have , giving us more choice about time in our communities for friends, family and neighbours, and of course volunteering.

The ancient Hill Farm barn, originally for storing and processing grain was decked out with Christmas decorations giving a moment of festive cheer and reasons to be cheerful, with it’s faded rural charm of old timbers, horse harnesses and straw – a past world only vaguely remembered as slow but sustainable.

Over at the Visitor Centre the volunteers had been busy creating the decorations. The Christmas survey found that 48% of people considered putting up decorations to be the defining aspect of the festival. At Ashridge the hallmark of the NT shines through – tastefulness. Seasonal decor is often tarnished by tackiness. We know it when we see it: An overly colourful display of themed pieces are showcased, each item clearly purchased at different times. The styles are a smorgasbord, each one clashing with the next. There is no doubt in your mind that there is a holiday on the horizon, not that you needed reminding!

So greetings to all our followers, both past and present.

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