- On Temptation: I thought it would be best to start here. If you're new to a plant based diet and going to Christmas parties and meals there will be a lot of food there that you may still enjoy like turkey, desserts, etc. For me now those foods are a turn-off so trust me it does get better, but in the meantime it pays to be prepared. Bring food to parties to share that is vegan so you can be sure something will be available to you. If you are going to a family dinner offer to cook some items. If you can't do without the "turkey" or whatever at the centre of your plate there are various packaged items from Tofurky and Gardein that may satisfy (or make your own). Yes they are processed junk foods, but two or three times a year aren't going to kill you. I often pre-eat before parties so I don't arrive hungry. When I arrive I seek out the inevitable vegetable tray and eat from it early to stay full and avoid temptation. Lastly, if you do slip and eat animal products or junk food don't despair. Perfection should never be the goal. I have a friend that is vegetarian except when at family celebrations where he eats whatever is served to fully take part with his family. His reasoning is that, like might have occurred in human history where meat was scarce, occasional feasts are suitable times for him to eat animals. I know this will resonate poorly with a lot of vegans (feel free to deposit hate mail in the comment section), but you need to navigate your own way and feel what is right for you. If you slip, get up the next day and begin again, no big deal.
- On Social Pressures: Our first few holidays as vegans were rather easy as we participated in family gatherings normally just sticking to the vegetables and avoiding making a big deal of it with family. We weren't all that strict in the beginning. Eventually though, particularly in our home, we didn't want to have animal foods present. When inviting family to our home we didn't offer them a turkey, ham or whatever though we suggested they could bring one. This caused some friction and people declined to come. When you stop participating in a social norm it puts a spotlight on the rest of the group and can create tension even if you're not a preachy vegan. You need to make your own decision about animal foods in your home but when dealing with close family and friends it pays to be sensitive to their comfort. Christmas dinner is not the time to prattle on about animal welfare and cholesterol in turkey meat. Generally avoid the topic, treat it like politics and religion and stick to more comfortable conversational waters. If someone brings up my eating choices I generally make light of it, even encourage making fun of it. If you're setting a good example, living healthfully and happily that becomes contagious. Over the years our family and even some of our friends have incorporated more vegan options into their meals and come to like them without us exerting any pressure. It's become normal for them to be around us with our veggie-centric foods. There are still some people that avoid meals with us but that is ok. Remember that is their story, not yours.
- If You're a Health and Fitness Fanatic: I've been accused, with good reason, of being hyper focused on eating healthy and exercise. The holidays can be troublesome for someone like me as health habits tend to slip and guilt can be a terrible thing. The weather is bad making exercise outdoors harder. Treats (sweets are my weakness) are plentiful and most social occasions orient around food. When I was fairly new to exercise I often ignored advice, preferring to learn things the hard way. This stubbornness came around to bite me on a few occasions with injury, fatigue and poor performance. If you happen to be more amenable to advice than I am, take this one piece of it. Rest. Unless you have a big competition coming in January it's ok and even healthy to give your body times of reduced training and increased recovery. You'll come back stronger for it. Consider cross training, such as snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, etc and take it easy, have fun, don't hit your target heart rates for once.
- Holiday Travel: Advice I may give for travelling any time of year gets amplified during Christmas. Nerves are short, people are in a hurry and travel is hectic. If you are going somewhere for Christmas prepare in advance with foods you can easily bring with you. My go to choices are nuts, dried fruit, granola bars and even whole fruit (not if you're crossing an international border where fruit is often banned). When you get to an airport look to the sides offered at restaurants like salads and potatoes that are often vegan or in the convenience stores where they usually have packaged nuts, seeds, fruit etc. Bring some on the plane with you as you won't know what is offered on board.
- On Drinking: I plan to write a bit more about this in the new year, but I have been abstaining from alcohol since last May and I'm tinkering with the notion of long term sobriety. Holidays are particularly challenging for those not imbibing as social pressures mount. For me, offering to be the designated driver and telling people I'm training have been helpful tools in deflecting social pressures. I worried for a time that people would wonder if I was an alcoholic but have come to relax about external judgement on the issue. If you choose to abstain or if you drink this article is particularly helpful in getting perspective. I'm not sure where I'm going with being a teetotaler, but if you're on the same path then this may be a challenging time of year. We are going through it together.
It's that time of year when family gatherings, Christmas parties and endless socials oriented around food dominate our lives. If you are a new (or even seasoned) vegan the challenges of navigating the social pressures and food temptations can be daunting. I recall my first few years as a vegan and the difficulties I had and thought it would be helpful to share some strategies and thoughts on getting through the holidays.
"Realize Deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life." - Eckhart Tolle