You get used to navigating tricky situations as a vegan. For instance, how to go vegan under someone else’s roof or how to date a non-vegan. And then, before you know it, Christmas is just around the corner and you’re politely trying to decline a tray of your nan’s homemade mince pies (all the while really craving one and doing your best not to offend anyone).
If this sounds horribly familiar, then this is why you need my vegan Christmas survival guide!
From the temptation of all your favourite non-vegan foods like Christmas dinner, cheese, and mountains of chocolate, to comments from relatives who just don’t get what this whole ‘vegan fad’ is about, I will be honest that your first vegan Christmas is probably going to be more challenging than you bargained for.
So to get prepared and have as smooth a Christmas as possible, read on for all my best tips on how to survive the festive season as a vegan!
I’m a Vegan, Get Me Out of Here! Why Being Vegan Is Challenging at Christmas
Firstly, it goes without saying that it takes a lot of willpower not to gorge on all of the ridiculously tempting food on offer – especially when it’s right in front of you! And then, from a purely practical perspective, it makes it harder for those around you, as they now need to add catering for a vegan to their already endless to-do list.
But, in my experience, what makes it even tougher is that it’s a fairly isolating and thankless task.
For the vast majority of us, despite the rising popularity of veganism, it’s rare to live in a family where veganism is the norm. You’re going to have to get used to being the odd one out in the room, so be prepared for a raised eyebrow or even outright criticism.
Food is often at the heart of cultural celebrations and deeply woven into the ways in which we show love and come together as families and social groups. From carving the turkey to tucking into a cheeseboard, it can be hurtful to your family when you don’t partake in traditions you’ve always shared.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to communicate your needs, put people at ease, and genuinely still have a lovely time at Christmas with your nearest and dearest, so let’s take a look in more detail.
The Traditional Christmas Dinner Dilemma
Before you start worrying – no, you don’t need to sit at home on your own like Billy no-mates! Here is everything you need to know to navigate those big sit-down roasts.
Plan, plan, plan
Especially when you’re not going to be hosting (and therefore not in charge of the menu), I can’t stress this enough. There is no such thing as too much planning!
If you rock up on Christmas day and no preparations have been made for your vegan dietary requirements, then you really have no one else to blame if you haven’t clearly communicated your needs beforehand. Even if you’ve casually mentioned that you’re vegan in passing, don’t necessarily assume that people will remember.
It’s also worth pointing out that some people don’t quite understand exactly what vegan is (veggie, plant-based, vegan – it’s all a bit confusing if you’ve not looked into it in a great deal). Where possible, sit down with the host and take the time to spell out what you can and can’t eat in plain English. This way, everyone is going to feel more comfortable with what is expected of them.
Remember, a bit of prior communication goes a long way. Although it may initially feel rude or like you’re imposing, it’s actually far more polite in the long run than giving someone no guidance and expecting them to cook a 3+ course meal for you.
Bring plant-based dishes with you
If in doubt, offer to bring a couple of your own plant-based dishes (with extra to go around, of course!). For example, take charge of your vegan centrepiece with a nut roast or a mushroom wellington, which can simply be popped in the oven and reheated on the day.
This is an easy way to ensure that you don’t impose on other people’s menu choices, as well as reduce pressure on the chef to accommodate multiple dishes.
Here are some other suggestions you may want to consider bringing with you:
- Vegan Christmas pudding
- Vegan mince pies and cream
- Vegan cheese and crackers
- Vegan wine (remember, not all wine is vegan, so bring your own to be on the safe side)
Otherwise, most other elements of the roast dinner itself are either already vegan, or can easily be ‘veganised’, e.g. roast potatoes, veggies, stuffing (yes, you can get vegan stuffing mixes!), and gravy. Just be careful not to let dairy or animal juices slip in when cooking.
Offer to help with the cooking
As well as bringing anything you need with you, don’t be afraid to get stuck in by lending a hand in the kitchen. I’m positive your host will be thrilled to have the help, so extra brownie points for donning your chef’s apron, too!
By doing this, you can help to ‘veganise’ some of your dishes. For example, making a small tin of roast potatoes that use oil instead of duck fat, or a jug of vegetable gravy.
It’s much better to do this so that you’re not anxiously worrying about what is and isn’t vegan, as it’s often difficult to tell unless you know exactly what’s gone into a finished dish.
Host your own vegan Christmas
Finally, if your family are willing to give up their traditional roast turkey, then you may want to consider hosting your own vegan Christmas. This gives you the opportunity to show off just how yummy plant-based food can be, so be sure to seize this opportunity with both hands and create some show-stopping courses!
One of my favourite vegan chefs is Gaz Oakley, so if you’re looking for recipe ideas, then I’d recommend checking out his cookbook Vegan Christmas.
How to Navigate General Festive Food
So you’ve made it through Christmas dinner (relatively) unscathed. But don’t forget that general festive nibbles are, well, basically a staple diet throughout December and right through to New Year! So you’ll want to avoid temptation and some major food envy…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Never leave anything to chance!
If you’re invited to someone else’s house for Christmas nibbles and drinks, then you must let them know beforehand that you’re vegan. If you don’t, you run the risk of them buying tons of food that will only go to waste. I can guarantee they’ll feel terrible and would rather have known, even if it means more hassle for them. It’s also a good idea to volunteer to bring some of your own snacks with you.
If it’s not so easy – I’m thinking unidentifiable canapes at a work’s do, for instance – then make sure you eat beforehand and don’t put yourself in a situation where you might go hungry (believe me, this is the worst time for cravings to kick in!).
Know your vegan party food options
The good news is that as well as naturally vegan snacks like hummus or olives, there is now also a huge amount of dedicated vegan Christmas party food in most supermarkets come December. Just pop over to the frozen aisle and look out for the veggie/plant-based section. For some examples of what you can look forward to, Veganuary has handily put together this life-saver of a list with all the different supermarket options currently available.
Dealing with temptation
Know your 'why'
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the abundance of vegan options now available. But this doesn’t mean that I’m immune from cravings. Christmas is particularly challenging because, unlike the rest of the year when you have full control over exactly the kinds of foods you surround yourself with, you can’t very easily escape all the meat and dairy on offer (unless you become a hermit: not advised).
This is why it’s so important to know your motivation for going vegan at a deep level. When your ‘why’ is solid, you’re less likely to be shaken in your resolve. If you haven’t already, then watch some of these vegan documentaries, educate yourself with vegan books, and just take the time to understand why this is an important and uncompromising part of who you are.
Stock up on your favourite vegan snacks
What is a virtually unbreakable combo? Knowing your ‘why’, plus having all of your favourite vegan snacks in your arsenal. Trust me, this will really help with passing up on those tempting platters being passed around.
You can still partake in many of your favourite Christmas traditions, too. For this year’s pick of vegan advent calendars, why not take a look at some of my favourites?
Manage your expectations
It’s a strange dichotomy being a vegan. On the one hand, you can be disgusted and saddened by the turkey sitting on the dining room table… and yet, on the other hand, still absolutely miss the taste of it. Remember that most of us don’t go vegan because we don’t enjoy meat and dairy – we do it for ethical reasons.
So the reality is that you probably will have food envy at Christmas. And, if you go into it accepting of the fact, then I promise you it’s going to be a whole lot easier. While vegan food has come on leaps and bounds, I won’t sugarcoat the situation or try to ‘sell’ veganism to you. It’s hard to change your habits and your tastebuds, so don’t wear rose-tinted glasses (it just makes it harder than it already is).
Remember - it’s not all about food
To wrap up this section, I think it’s worth pointing out that while food is a big deal, it doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all. There is so much more to Christmas, such as spending time in the same room with your loved ones, watching Home Alone or cracking out a board game. You can still enjoy many of the traditions that already make Christmas in your household special (plus, it’s never too late to make some new ones!).
2. Gift Giving
In truth, a vegan lifestyle extends far beyond diet. To paraphrase The Vegan Society’s definition, it’s about minimising the suffering of animals in all aspects of our lives, as much as we possibly can.
From woolly jumpers to cosmetics tested on animals, gift-giving and receiving can also be a bit of a minefield as a vegan if you’re not careful, so check out my tips below.
Create a list of vegan gifts
Even if someone knows you’re vegan and is stressing over the catering of your Christmas dinner, they may not think to check whether the gift they’ve bought for you is vegan. And this isn’t intentionally inconsiderate, it’s simply that most people are blissfully unaware.
If you’ve checked out any of my buying guides, then you’ll have an appreciation that it can be hard enough as a vegan to work out what is animal-friendly, cruelty-free and ethical! So you can imagine what a nightmare this could prove for a well-meaning relative.
To help everyone all around, make a list beforehand and distribute it to anyone looking for gift ideas for you. This helps to minimise receiving non-vegan presents and the waste that this inevitably causes.
I’ve scoured the internet and pulled together my favourite vegan gift inspiration, so you may find this useful to help you figure out your own Christmas list this year (as well as purchasing more consciously for others!).
How to deal with non-vegan gifts
Of course, no matter how careful you are to communicate your vegan wishlist, it’s inevitable that from time to time you may still receive something non-vegan. And, whether it’s from a work colleague, a distant relative, or a close family member, it can be difficult to know what to do in these situations.
Firstly, I would advise you to always be gracious. The act of gift-giving itself shows love and care, and this is what we should be most appreciative of (it doesn’t really matter what the gift is in this sense).
You don’t want to make someone feel terrible or awkward by not accepting your gift or by loudly proclaiming that you’re vegan. Instead, try dropping it into conversation casually with them at a later date.
Regarding non-vegan gifts themselves, perhaps see if it’s something another family member or friend would like. Otherwise, consider donating to a charity shop.
3. Difficult Questions
Christmas is a time when we spend more time than usual with loved ones. Naturally, this brings topics like veganism to the forefront of conversation in a way that we don’t normally have to deal with in everyday life (read: you can’t run or hide!).
Whether it’s a grandparent telling you exactly what they think or a barbed jibe, people can quickly get defensive when it comes to this loaded topic – often before you’ve even said a word! So here’s how to navigate any of those difficult conversations this Christmas.
How to handle awkward situations
Before you know it, conversation around the dinner table has turned to your vegan lifestyle and all eyes are on you! If you’ve ever struggled to articulate how you get enough protein, or faced lengthy quizzing on Vitamin B12, then you’ll know how easy it is in those moments to lose all grasp of the English language, let alone put a coherent argument together.
While I have busted a load of common vegan myths, my advice in this situation would simply be to try and move the conversation on as quickly and politely as possible.
If people are genuinely curious, then maybe agree to discuss it at another time and bring it up in a more neutral setting. Generally speaking, this kind of conversation usually doesn’t lead anywhere productive around a dinner table (after all, who is going to be receptive whilst they’re stuffing their face with turkey?!).
Be a role model
Leading on from my last point – don’t feel that you need to be an activist at the dinner table. Inevitably, it has the opposite effect of what you intended and can actually put people off more than it converts anyone to the vegan cause.
Just the act of you being there and choosing not to participate in eating animal products is enough. It’s a polite, subtle form of activism which still sends a clear signal and causes others to question lifelong habits they’ve probably never stopped to think about before. In short, you don’t need to worry about anyone else’s actions other than your own.
Be positive, not judgemental
It can be hard when others don’t ‘get it’ like you do. But remember that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when you’d have also thought that the vegan in the room was the ‘hipster’ or ‘kooky’ one.
Eating meat is not only normalised in our society, it’s pretty much celebrated, so it’s not surprising that people don’t see anything inherently wrong with what they’re doing. And it certainly doesn’t make them ‘bad’ people. So just do your best and be a positive presence in the room. This way, without any judgment or negative energy, you may find that people are surprisingly sympathetic to your arguments when the topic does naturally arise.
Don’t worry, it gets easier
You’ll be pleased to know that your first Christmas as a vegan is inevitably the hardest. As your family begin to realise that this is more than a passing phase, it quickly becomes old news.
And, if you slip up, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s a difficult time of year and it doesn’t mean that all of your previous efforts have been in vain. Just dust yourself off, get back on the wagon again as quickly as possible, and learn from your mistakes for next time.
Getting Through the Christmas Season as a Vegan in One Piece
I hope that, if nothing else, this guide to surviving the Christmas season as a vegan helps you to understand that you’re not alone – there are loads of us going through exactly the same thing! So stay strong, because we’re in this together.
For more advice on how to navigate going vegan, then take a look at my complete beginner’s guide over here, in which I leave no stone unturned! I also have simple suggestions on what to eat when you first go vegan as well as how to transition to a vegan diet.