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Christmas is a time for peace and goodwill, yet most people celebrate with actions that unwittingly condone cruelty. Millions of turkeys are slaughtered, pets are given as presents and then discarded when the novelty wears off, Boxing Day hunting attracts significant support, and gifts are offered without thought to the human and animal misery they might have caused. So here are a few basic tips for those who wish to be cruelty-free Christmas shoppers.

It is the great irony of the 'festival of peace' that it is celebrated by feasting off the bodies of slaughtered animals. Roughly 10 million turkeys are killed for the Christmas market in this country alone, and many other creatures are killed and feasted on as part of the holiday ritual.

Like most areas of retail trade, Christmas is a boom time for the slaughter industry. Most turkeys are intensively reared in crowded windowless sheds. The birds are genetically selected for high meat yields and to put on weight as quickly as possible. This often causes their legs to buckle under them, as they can barely carry their own heavy weight. Turkeys have a natural life span of approximately 10 years, yet they are slaughtered for the dinner table at the tender age of 12-26 weeks.

Apart from replacing the dead animal with a favourite vegetarian dish, the compassionate Christmas scoffer has also to look out for animal ingredients in other products such as cakes, chocolates, wines, biscuits and other luxury foods. Numerous animal-free mince pies and Christmas puddings are now available, and there are also a few Christmas cakes completely free from animal ingredients on the market. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can make your own mince pies from shortcrust pastry and suet-free mincemeat, or produce delicious Christmas cakes and puddings without eggs.

See the Animal Aid Veggie Collection for delicious animal-free Christmas recipes.

Cosmetics and toiletries
The majority of high street brands contain animal ingredients, such as lanolin (wool fat), gelatine (from bones and hooves) and stearate (from animal fat). Also, many cosmetic ingredients are still tested on animals, for although there is a voluntary ban on testing in the UK, international companies such as L'Oreal and Clairol continue to research their products

Fortunately, both luxury and budget brands of vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics are widely available from health food shops, supermarkets, chemists and by mail order.

The Animal Aid online shop features a good range of cruelty-free cosmetics and toiletries.

If clothing contains leather, suede, wool, silk, down or fur then animals have been exploited during manufacture. Look out for animal-free alternatives such as lorica and PVC jackets in place of leather and suede. Likewise, ensure that anything with a silk or fur-look trim is made from synthetic material.

Another clothing-related issue is that most fashionable stores and designs depend upon sweatshop human labour in poorer countries. Workers are often forced to work long hours in appalling conditions for very low pay, while the multinational fashion industry makes fat profits. It is difficult to be certain of the origin of most clothes, but a general rule is to seek
garments manufactured in nations where you can be sure that basic labour laws apply (for example, most EU countries enforce a minimum wage. For more details, contact The World Development Movement, 25 Beehive Place, London SW9 7QR, Tel 0171 737 6215).

Pets as presents
Christmas can be the very worst time to get a pet. Most households are noisy, hectic places and this type of atmosphere can be frightening to nervous young animals.

On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of healthy dogs and cats are killed every year because they are unwanted, and most sanctuaries are also overflowing with many other species, including rabbits and guinea pigs. This is particularly so in the weeks after Christmas, when many pets given as presents are discarded.

So if you can offer a home to rescued animals you will be saving lives, though be sure that you can offer decent living conditions and care.

A rabbit or guinea pig can live for over five years, a dog 12-15 years and a cat even longer. Few young children are mature enough to show great interest in a new pet for more than a few months, so before bringing an animal into your home, think carefully about who will do the walking and cleaning out for the rest of his/her life. You also need to consider who will do the looking after when you are on holiday, and whether you can afford to pay unexpected and expensive vets' bills.

If you like the idea of helping unwanted animals, but are unable to look after one at home, there are schemes operated by some sanctuaries in which you pay an annual donation to 'adopt' an animal who is unable to be re-homed. In return, you receive photos and progress reports.

Charitable donations
Many charities are working hard to make the world a safer and fairer place for people and animals, and Christmas is an ideal time to help them out by making a donation. Take care, however, not to support medical charities that fund animal experiments. Animal Aid can provide a list of those that do not.

Animals in entertainment
Although the days when Christmas television schedules always included circuses featuring animal acts have thankfully passed, travelling circuses which feature species such as tigers, horses, camels and llamas still tour. As an alternative, look out for the growing number of very good animal-free circuses, featuring talented human acrobats, dancers, clowns and gymnasts.

Christmas cards
Purchasing from charities is a great way to support their work, but once again beware of those which fund animal experiments. In particular, packs of charity cards on sale in big stores often include support for the larger vivisection-sponsoring medical charities.

Toys and crafts
The same problems of exploitation of vulnerable people exist with toys and crafts. Other human rights issues besides low pay and appalling working conditions include child labour, slavery and suppression of unions. Once again, the best bet is to seek items manufactured in countries with statutory labour laws, such as our own glove puppets. Or buy guaranteed
fairtrade goods from Oxfam shops or elsewhere.

Discarded Christmas trees take up lots of space in landfill sites, so before buying a real tree, check whether your local Council runs a mulching or composting service. If not, ask them to set one up.

Tips for the shopping hater
For those who find shopping amongst the least attractive ways of spending spare time, you can purchase nearly everything you need for a cruelty-free Christmas via mail order. Top of the list is our own Animal Aid online shop, of course!

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