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Photo: Tabby cat sitting under Christmas tree beside two gifts.

How to Have a Vegan Holiday

The holiday season can be a tricky time when you’re vegan—regardless of whether you’re new to the lifestyle or have been vegan for years.

With deep-rooted traditions in place, it’s hard to know how to navigate the holidays as a vegan. All of us at Kinder Beauty have experienced the best- and worst-case scenarios at seasonal gatherings and dinner parties, where we’re often the only vegan in the room.

We’re not indulging in the same traditional meal like everyone else, and, just by being vegan, other guests might be cynical or feel judged about their own lifestyle choices. And the cheeky comments and heated discussions can feel almost inevitable.

Though the holidays can feel awkward and intimidating when meals center around a turkey or beef brisket and you’re taken out of your comfort zone, know that you’re not alone. We’re here to help.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or another festivity, here’s how you can stay true to your values and make it vegan while still enjoying your time with friends and family.

Consciously choose party invites

Dinner gatherings can be a much different experience compared to the plant-based dinners you make at home, where you’re in control of what’s served. It’s wise to take into consideration which party hosts will make you feel most comfortable when it comes to vegan food and which parties might include hosts or guests who will be close-minded or give you a hard time.

Remember that showing up is your choice, and if you attend parties where you don’t feel comfortable, you won’t have a good time.

For the parties you decide to attend, consider speaking to the host ahead of time if they aren’t aware of your dietary preferences. If they don’t offer to provide vegan options or are unfamiliar with what vegan meals entail, bring your own vegan meal along with a hearty plant-based dish you can share.

If that’s not an option or you’re not ready to reveal that you’re vegan, eat before you go or let the host know you’ll join the party after dinner.

Shop Vegan Holiday Beauty

Host holiday parties yourself

If you’re up for it, offer to host the holiday gathering yourself. This is your opportunity to share vegan versions of seasonal comfort foods and make plant-based dishes that shine.

There’s no need to mention that everything on the dinner table is vegan if you think your guests will turn their noses up at it. 

Put in your best effort to create a well-rounded menu that includes dishes that are familiar to guests—but that just happen to not include animal products.

Feature a vegan meat–based centerpiece such as a ready-made Tofurky roast or a lentil-stuffed Wellington, along with other traditional side dishes such as sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, roasted vegetables, or latkes and challah if you’re celebrating Hanukkah—and don’t forget dessert.

Make new food-centered traditions

If you’re new to the vegan lifestyle, this is the time to create new food centred traditions. Doing so will help you enjoy this time of year a lot more, and maybe even to look forward to it.

Recreate your mom’s casserole recipe to be vegan, try new holiday recipes that look enticing, and get into the spirit of vegan holiday baking.

Share the wealth with friends and neighbors, and if you notice others love what you make, do it again next year. It’s never too late to create new traditions, and they often bring family and friends closer together. 

Be enthusiastic about any effort people make

If family members or friends offer to provide vegan options or even bring a plant-based dish to your own party, be sure to acknowledge their efforts and be enthusiastic about the dish they made.

Even if it just meant not adding dairy-based cheese to a salad, using vegan butter and non-dairy milk in the mashed potatoes, or roasting extra vegetables, be sure to compliment the chef and take an extra helping of the vegan food to let them know how much you enjoyed it.

If you’re encouraging and supportive, it’s likely they’ll want to try making something bigger and better the next time you’re together for a meal.

Educate othersbut not at the table

Try to avoid the topic of veganism at the table, especially when there are animal products being served. People don’t want to hear about factory farming, heart disease, or deforestation while they’re eating meat, and it’s likely that it will make meal time uncomfortable. Instead, talk about how good the vegan food is or how much you’re enjoying the holiday.

If someone asks you a question about veganism, responding quickly without going into much detail is the best strategy, and then change the topic. They’ll get the hint. 

If you’re attending a dinner where meat is involved, don’t turn up your nose at the animal-based dishes—that will only make people defensive and it can come across as rude. Chances are you probably ate meat at some point in your life, so remember where you came from and that everyone is on their own path.

If you’re hosting an all-vegan dinner party yourself and your guests are genuinely interested in how you made the meal, seize the opportunity to share your recipes, cooking tips, and knowledge.

Prepare for questions

Veganism naturally makes people curious, so practice patience if you get asked seemingly obvious questions (Where do you get your protein? How can you live without cheese?). If you’re engaging with critics of the lifestyle, be gracious and kind and go into discussions with an open heart.

Be prepared with informed and friendly answers, keep them short, and refrain from judging others for their own choices by using “I” phrases, such as “I am vegan because...,” “I feel…”, etc. 

Even if you’re eager to share your views, sometimes the best way to avoid a heated discussion is to not talk about veganism unless you’re asked about it.

Keep discussions light and don’t get into moral superiority or us versus them debates. If all else fails, excuse yourself and grab a cocktail. Being a shining example of a confident and healthy vegan is the best way to represent the lifestyle without even saying anything.

If you’re new to veganism, know that conversations will get easier as time passes. Your family and friends will realize that you being vegan is not a phase, you haven’t died from protein deficiency, and you really can live without meat (and cheese). 

Share the Gift of Vegan Beauty

Remember to embrace the festive cheer

Although a meaty feast is often the main event at holiday gatherings, don’t forget that it’s not everything.

It’s important to appreciate one another and create beautiful memories together. At the end of the day, the season is about love, appreciation, and celebration without judgment.

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Nicole Axworthy is a Toronto-based writer and author of the vegan cookbook DIY Vegan.