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Viewpoint: Poet Zephaniah's 'cruelty-free Christmas'

Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah: 'I say, let it be the season of goodwill to all'

When people say "Merry Christmas" to me, I always reply "I don't do Christmas".

Those who know me will usually understand, while those who don't, might make further enquiries.

I understand that most people who celebrate Christmas don't do so because it is the Christ's Mass, and of course everyone knows that Christ was not born on the 25th of December.

When most people see Santa Claus, they're not seeing St Nicholas of Myra. Most don't realise that they're seeing a creation of the cartoonist Thomas Nast, inspired by Coca Cola.

Most people have worked hard all year and just want a good time. It is an excuse to have a party.

It's about being a consumer with a conscience
Benjamin Zephaniah

I have never liked the idea of having a good time when the calendar tells me to, but when I did try to get into the Christmas spirit I couldn't stop wondering if there had been any suffering in order for me to have my jollifications.

I don't want to pass judgment on others - one of my favourite biblical sayings is " Judge not, that ye not be judged" - but I do have to live with my own conscience and be true to myself.

As soon as I discovered that 10 million turkeys are killed in the UK for the Christmas market alone, along with all the ducks, chickens and pigs... well it spoiled it for me.

But it's not just about the food. It's also about the goods we buy. In many cases, children and adults in various parts of the world are exploited so we can get cheap Christmas presents to give to the people who we care so much about.

Then I discovered Christmas Without Cruelty, an annual gathering of ethical businesses and charities that usually happens at Kensington Town Hall in London.

Although I still don't do Christmas, one without cruelty is one that I would do. Every year I go down to Kensington to spend money. There is something there for sport lovers, wine lovers, cake lovers, curry lovers, fashion lovers, or just lovers.

So now being a vegan, being ethical, or just caring about the environment doesn't mean that you have to make great sacrifices. A Christmas without cruelty doesn't mean a Christmas without.

Many people are passionate about what they call a "traditional Christmas", but most of the things we think of as traditional at Christmas were introduced at some point.

A free range Norfolk Black turkey
Turkey will not feature on Benjamin's Christmas menu

The tree, the cards, the mince pies, the mistletoe, the office party and the Christmas shopping, are all things that we have added, and some are surprisingly modern, so there is no reason why we couldn't add caring for animals, compassion, and ethical consumerism.

For me it's not about being holier than thou, it's not even about being holy, it's about being a consumer with a conscience. When I, and millions of other people go shopping, a great deal of time is spent reading the labels for health or ethical reason, but when I go to Christmas Without Cruelty (or any of the other fairs that there are throughout the year), I can spend less time reading labels and more time enjoying the sights and the people.

Every year I go I try to take a new person with me, and every person that I have taken - regardless of their religious beliefs - has been impressed by the concept and by the idea of a Christmas where the money they spend, and the presents they give, really means something to them.

I once wrote a poem in which I said "be nice to yu turkey dis Christmas". Apparently it has saved the lives of many turkeys. But the turkey is symbolic. You can also be nice to your cows, your goats, your neighbours, garment workers in Asia, Africa, Europe, and your planet.

You can just be nice. I say, let it be the season of goodwill to all.

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