I was passing though a gift shop the other day (the only exit from any museum/historic house/visitor attraction) when I noticed their Christmas decorations on display. To be precise, a frying pan containing bacon and eggs. My initial shock at why anyone would pay £9.99 to hang a frying pan on their Christmas tree was swiftly followed by the welcome relief that I no longer sell Christmas decorations.
People are already asking about opening dates* for the Christmas Tree Barn and decorations shop, so I should explain why we aren’t selling Christmas decorations in 2021 and only selling Christmas trees.
Three years ago, Ruth and I did our usual tour of the Christmas shop before we opened for the day. Our sales had increased over the previous few years as we’d sussed what our customers wanted and how best to display it. We were halfway through the season, so there was a little rearranging to fill some gaps and reposition the decorations that weren’t selling. The baubles twinkled and row upon row of pretty decorations dangled next to shelves where Father Christmas figures and Nutcracker soldiers jostled with stuffed moose and mice for space.
As she rearranged some twiggy hedgehogs, Ruth questioned why we were selling them. The answer (of course) was because they were popular and sold well. We looked at them. Sure, they were cute. But some of the twigs were coming adrift, the glitter was shedding and the nose wasn’t glued on very well. We looked around us.
To be blunt, although there were plenty of beautiful decorations, some of the cheap and cheerful ones were likely destined for landfill after Christmas. The storeroom was filled with waste cardboard, plastic and cellophane packaging, the floor dusted with plastic glitter that had fallen from the ornaments. A large box contained the decorations we’d rejected because they were broken on arrival or of such poor quality that they bore little resemblance to the samples we’d been shown earlier in the year.
It all seemed such a waste. All year we tried to keep to the 5Rs mantra of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle but that was totally forgotten in the Christmas shop. There and then, we vowed to have a more sustainable Christmas shop.
The following year we asked questions at the trade shows, instead of simply marvelling at the impressive displays, but the reps shrugged their shoulders at questions of provenance. It appeared that everything was shipped straight from China with no questions asked. They laughed when we said we wanted to avoid glitter and excess packaging. They didn’t care.
We had fewer decorations in the Christmas shop that year, but they were of good quality and could be used year after year, even if they were a bit glittery and we had no idea what conditions they were made under. We replaced the cheap, glued felt decorations with ethically produced Fairtrade ones and found baubles made from glass, metal, paper and wood. Local makers supplied hand-made decorations, jewellery, gifts and cards. There were Christmas themed printmaking classes, a local florist ran wreath-making classes and of course, there were hundreds of fresh Christmas trees to buy just across the yard in The Christmas Tree Barn.
As expected, it didn’t suit all our customers and profits dipped. But we felt it was a positive move that we could build on and in January 2020 started to work out how we’d connect with customers who shared our ethos and made plans for a more sustainable Christmas at Slamseys Barley Barn that focussed on crafts and making, more heirlooms and less landfill.
Ah, yes. 2020.
Unsurprisingly, nothing went to plan and we opened only for a brief Bargain Sale in a lull between lockdowns.
The pandemic has altered our lives and our attitudes. Our priorities have changed and we’ve learnt that there are things we can easily do without. I’m unsure how many people want to visit a shop to buy Christmas decorations this year, whether they’re ethically produced or not, and who knows what will happen next year. So, we’ve closed the shop permanently and donated all our remaining stock to local groups and charities. Maybe there’ll be something happening in The Barley Barn in the future, but it definitely won’t be a Christmas decorations shop.
*The Christmas Tree Barn at Slamseys opens on 26 November 2021.
You might be interested to read this article about the production of Christmas decorations.