Holidays are a time of celebration, togetherness, and love, but they can also be an emotionally difficult time for vegans. Some of the most common inquiries I get from clients and newly vegan friends are about the holiday season. “How do I deal with my uncle’s constant teasing? I can’t take it anymore!” “How do you not just burst into tears when you see the (Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, etc.) on the table?” “How do I let my family know that I love them and that I’m not trying to exclude myself from the party?”
Below are some of the many tips I’ve accumulated over the years for keeping the peace with family during the holidays. The first three deal with family interactions and relationships, and the last two cover inclusion and emotional wellness.
Find your voice. When the questions come rolling in, we need to know where to begin. Finding an effective voice is a process that is continually being refined. The intense empathy we feel can be interpreted by others as melodrama. In reality, we are acutely aware of and rightly sensitive about animal suffering. If you lose your cool, or feel as though you weren’t the best advocate for animals, don’t beat yourself up. Learn from the experience, and do better next time. As we grow, we learn how to better represent what we stand for.
Engage with discretion. Are the questions out of genuine interest, or do they hope to trip you up and prove you wrong. If you think the person is truly curious, answer their questions as best as you can in a style that’s authentic to you. Are you’re a bookworm? Have statistics handy to back you up. You’re the comedian? Respond with witty jokes to lighten the mood. When you don’t know something say, “I’m not sure about that. I’ll look into it and get back to you.” Don’t forget to follow up! If they don’t actually have an interest in the topic or if their pestering becomes unbearable, disengage. Simple as that. There’s nothing good that would come from that kind of interaction.
Listen. For a successful discourse, there must be a willingness on both sides to listen. Stay open to what they’re saying, and take a moment to let it sink in before you respond. Then, answer in a loving way. Ideally, you both listen to each other, and the conversation leads to new levels of understanding and respect for one another. Of course, doing your part doesn’t guarantee that the other person will reciprocate. We can influence, offer information, practice love and acceptance, and listen from a place of nonjudgment, but we cannot force others into an exchange if they’re not willing. At the very least, you gain a better understanding of why they are the way they are.
Find an ally. Look for ways to minimize any discomfort, and reach out to people who care about how you’re feeling. If the sight of the turkey being stuffed and carved bothers you, leave the room (quietly) or switch seats with someone who is farther from where the meat is displayed. If the smell of roasting pig flesh turns your stomach, put a few dabs of essential oils under your nostrils. As a kid, I used to excuse myself to an empty bedroom in my grandma’s house and take a nap while the Thanksgiving turkey was being prepared. My dad, who is not vegan but is sympathetic to what I was feeling, would come get me when we were ready to eat.
Include yourself. The best thing to do when you feel distanced is to find ways to include yourself and your compassion. Bring vegan food to share with everyone. Put your Adopt-a-Turkey card on display, or gift someone a sponsorship for a sanctuary animal. These all represent veganism (and you!) in a friendly way.
With all of these thoughts, ideas, and actions in mind, holiday tensions can be minimized. Every little bit helps. And remember that, above all, holidays are a time of celebration, togetherness, and love.