As a vegan, the holidays can be difficult. As Christmas approaches, I am pondering about customs and traditions. Every family is different, and every family cherishes their traditions. But what is it that we treasure so much and makes holidays so special? Is it the delicious meals, the gifts, the time with family and friends or the religious celebrations? Some of us are fortunate to have loving families with whom we spend our holidays, and some of us are not so fortunate, so we choose not to partake in holiday celebrations. We all, however, appreciate tradition and custom to one extent or another. They are part of us. They are pinpoints that mark moments in time to remember and reclaim. We even fly across the country for sometimes a minimal amount of days for “tradition.” And, every family has its own customs.
The custom in my family is no exception. Food was an integral part of my Christmas celebration with my family when I was a child. As a first generation American who immigrated from Argentina to the United States, I grew up celebrating the holiday on Christmas Eve with my family and friends with a large meal in the evening consisting of pan dulce, nuts, fiambre and Argentine sandwiches, empanadas, a large ham, delicious side dishes, Argentine flan and mate for dessert, and a glass of Sidra as a toast at midnight. We all could not wait to partake in the delicious food. After midnight, we opened our gifts. We sometimes attended midnight mass and sometimes did not. We spent Christmas day enjoying our gifts, each other, and munching on leftovers. I remember great times, laughter, celebration, love, and feeling happy every Christmas. However, even though I loved the holiday celebrations with my family, I am now not able to participate in the family tradition anymore. As a vegan, the food, which was an integral part of our celebration at Christmas, does not appeal to me anymore for ethical and health reasons. So, where does that leave me? Am I to ignore my family traditions completely? What is the best that I could do in this predicament?
I decided I needed to start my own new family traditions eliminating the animal consumption without eliminating the people. This year, I will be having a vegan Christmas dinner with friends. I have also decided to perfect a vegan version of most of the foods that were part of my family’s Christmas tradition. This might take time and practice, but my goal is to recreate those special moments with a new, healthy, and delicious cruelty-free versions of our family Christmas dinners. I will mesh the old with the new. I am starting with one item this Christmas!
If you are a new or seasoned vegan and struggling with whether you will partake in a holiday celebration consisting of animal-based foods, or if you are feeling anxious about spending the holiday with non-vegans, here are a few suggestions that might help:
- Realize that what is truly important. The people are. There is no replacement for each and every one of us, and we all matter.
- If you have not done so, explain to your family that you are now vegan and explain why you are vegan for the animals, for your health, and for the planet (see Why Vegan). Explain how it has changed your life for the better with enthusiasm and grace. Hopefully, they will respect your decision and not become argumentative.
- If someone should try to start an argument, take a deep breath and remember that their attack is about them and not about you. If you do not have an answer for their particular question, simply tell them you don’t know but will find out.
- If you should have a very argumentative person at the table, simply tell them you are not there to argue, and if they are interested in learning more about veganism, a good book to read is The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle.
- Contribute to the family meal by bringing one or two vegan dishes! Everyone will be curious, and they will love them!
- The dinner table, especially during holiday times, is not the place to preach about being vegan. Remember that many people will already feel threatened by your diet. They know they are not eating healthy and are not willing to face that truth for whatever reason. Your very presence might be a threat. This is the time to enjoy your loved ones and not the time to assert your choice of lifestyle. If they should be genuinely interested, fantastic! Spread the truth with grace, patience, and with all your knowledge.
- Focus on what you like or love about the particular people at the dinner table. You will enjoy your time with them more.
- If for whatever reason, all of the above should fail, start your own holiday traditions with cruelty-free, vegan, delicious meals. You will be contributing to making the world a better, more compassionate place for all living beings.
Wishing you a peaceful and cruelty-free holiday.
© 2014 Vilma Reynoso, VEGoutwithVilms.com, VEG out: go Vegan. save Earth. be Good to animals.