Excitement levels are running at record levels here in Rabbit Towers as we look beyond Christmas to our upcoming trip to Mexico in the new year. It's a beautiful country which we know reasonably well having visited in the past - in fact, this will be our sixth trip in twelve years! We're flying in and out of Mexico City, and driving from the capital over to the west coast via Guadalajara.
We know that many of our customers love our selection of products from Mexico - from small, ornate tin mirrors up to beautiful, handwoven rugs. Perhaps there's an item you've seen in the shop but didn't get a chance to buy, or perhaps you have a favourite Mexican item we haven't stocked up until now? Well, here is your chance! Within reason, we'll be aiming to bring back a good selection of new stock from our trip, so if you have requests, let us know about them. No promises, but we'll do our best!
We're particularly excited about sourcing some Huichol art from Nayarit, visiting our friends at Fabrica Social in Mexico City, and visiting the craft hotspot of Tonala on the outskirts of Guadalajara. And don't worry if you're planning to be in Hay in January - the shop will still be open thanks to the wonderful Dora! Check the website for exact opening hours nearer the time.
There's no escaping it now - we are well and truly in the Christmas season. With only three (aargh!) blogs left before the big day, I thought I'd use each one to talk about something different. Next week we'll have some last minute shopping advice for those of you who are as unprepared as I am, and the week after we'll look at what 2017 might have in store for us. But it seems right to pause for a moment and take a look back at 2016.
For some people, it has been an excellent year. But many of us will look back on 2016 with a sense of bewilderment, wondering how we managed to hopscotch from Bowie to Brexit to Trump in the blink of an eye. And no matter what side of the political fence you sit on, there's no doubting that the fence - or great border wall, if you will - has never been higher or more difficult to see over. No matter who won or lost, the outcome has certainly been a more divided world.
And while we in the UK argue over semantics and arcane points of law, you don't have to go too far to see that many places that are literally falling apart - Syria being the obvious example.
It can be depressing. But through it all, glimmers of hope emerge. For every portent of doom, there's a silver lining. In that spirit, I'd thoroughly recommend the Positive News website and magazine - looking at the world through a prism of progress, possibility and positivity. There is far more that unites us than divides us. Next week, we'll get back to the shopping - but for now, stay positive!
Do you feel a zen calm wash over you as you absorb my wisdom? Good! So now let us apply our new found knowledge to the thorny subject of Black Friday. Every year we moan about it. Every year we offer money to charity instead of discounts, or support Buy Nothing Day, or something else. And still nothing changes. Still it continues.
So here's another riddle for you.
Are you happy with the way Christmas is going this year? Do you find it relaxing... stress-free... meaningful... fulfilling? Or is it just a long headache which leaves you with empty pockets and a sore head on Boxing Day?
Now. Imagine. What does Christmas look like in twenty year's time? Just think about how much it has changed in the past twenty years. 1996. No mobile phones to speak of, no internet to speak of, let alone online shopping. No Amazon, no Facebook, no eBay. What do you think will change by 2036 - and will it be better or worse?
I think you can see where I'm going with this. If we want it to change, wehave to change it. We have to stop doing what the adverts tell us, and go back to a simpler, more heartfelt experience of what Christmas time should be about.
So this Black Friday I'm not going to buy anything that isn't from a local shop here in Hay. If everyone did the same, of course, Black Friday would fade away. Whether that happens or we carry on the current course is up to all of us. In 2036 perhaps we'll be hearing those troika bells when the clocks go back... but equally, perhaps we'll have resolved to make Christmas a special time again, where we think about what we can give to others, rather than just a blizzard of buying. See you in twenty years!
We all moan about it - the "Christmas season" seems to start earlier and earlier every year. Where once it would have been mid-December before trees began to appear, now the October half-term signals an explosion of tinsel and troika bells filling the airwaves and the shop windows.
And with the tat and fairy lights comes the new scourge of modern times - the Christmas adverts. John Lewis, M&S, even Aldi and Lidl will all be trying to out-do each other for the best soundtrack, most tear-jerking moment, and greatest amount of cash through the tills.
I am normally a certified Scrooge when it comes to the ads, particularly after last year's demolition of Oasis classic "Half the World Away." This year comes a glimmer of hope, however. The John Lewis advert is actually very good! Here it is:
And I was even more impressed to read that John Lewis had worked with the Wildlife Trust as their charity partner on the advert. They advised the retail giant on how to make the ad and how it could appeal to consumers. Great stuff.
The icing on the cake would be if John Lewis went the extra mile and signed up to the Stop Funding Hate campaign, encouraging retailers to stop advertising in media outlets which encourage discrimination and hatred towards minority groups.
"I've Come to Wish You an Unhappy Birthday" sang The Smiths in '87. And now thirty years on, it's difficult not to feel a sense of foreboding as we wake this morning to celebrate four years as Eighteen Rabbit Fair Trade. It seems like only yesterday that our first lovely customers stepped over the threshold and - to our astonishment! - bought something. It feels like we've come a long way since then. And the world has changed a lot too.
2016 seems to have brough unwelcome and uncomfortable shifts in what we had come to accept as normal life. Bowie, Brexit and now Trump. At every turn there seems to be a chasm between the arguments - facts and figures, debates, even, heaven forbid, "experts" - and the actual result. We're told that Brexit will be bad for Britain - we do it anyway. We see Trump coming out with statements and conduct that would have been unthinkable in any other Presidential race - he wins anyway. "Why do people keep getting it wrong?" we ask ourselves.
I'll freely admit that I have been guilty of this. After the EU refurendum, my first reaction was that the public deserved whatever it got. If they were stupid enough to vote for something so obviously damaging, I reasoned, then good luck to them. For whatever reason, last night's election result has made me realise more sharply than ever how wrong this thinking is.
If we dismiss those who voted for Brexit, or Trump, as simpletons who need to be "educated," we are not only displaying breathtaking arrogance, we are also reinforcing the very mindset that caused the situation in the first place. We lock ourselves in echo chambers where we only hear our own views - "Why would anyone disagree with me when I'm so obviously right? All my friends say so!" It then becomes easy to dismiss those who disagree with us as a lunatic fringe - racists, bigots, gun-totin' rednecks. A small number will fit into those categories. The vast majority have simply had enough.
The truth is that people are suffering. The world is more unfair than it has ever been, even here in the UK and USA. It would be nice to think that people would rise up against the financial and corporate systems that trap them in poverty but that hasn't been an option on any ballot I remember. It is therefore natural, understandable, and perhaps even admirable that people choose to lash out at soft targets when they get the chance. People are not stupid. They can probably see that there's not much difference between Milliband and Cameron. Or - disgusting rhetoric aside - between Trump and Clinton.
So what now? How to combat what looks like an inexorable slide into lowest common denominator mob rule? Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are worse places to start. In the UK we can help to build systems of support that reinforce the truth that there is more that unites us than divides us. Volunteer in your community. Join a local campaign group. Help your church group to reach out to the people most at need. By creating an alternative vision to the hatred and the division, you can build a healthier society. No-one else is going to do it.
We started Eighteen Rabbit four years ago today to try to make the world a fairer place. Our work gives us an insight into the creativity, industriousness and ambition of people all across the globe. By bringing people together, rather than dividing them, we can make sure that the UK is an example of best practice in fairness and equality, rather than a small-minded, closed and selfish nation. Ultimately, we are greater than the sum of our parts. If we reject fear, reject hatred, reject division, then like Pandora before us we might find that all we are left with is hope. And hope is what we need right now.