Ah Christmas! A time of joy, happiness, companionship and laughter. Or a time of arguments, tension and not being able to exit a room fast enough? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Christmas-hating Scrooge (it’s actually one of my favourite times of the year), but I am realistic and life isn’t a John Lewis advert. When something that sets you apart from the rest (like being vegan), especially around that ‘holy of holies’ (the dinner table), there’s potential for things to feel a little fraught…
That pre-Christmas worry is something that all vegans understand and sympathise with, so I’ve put together a few tips to get you through the big day, and hopefully make the lead-up to it less stressful as well. (And these come from someone who married into a family where a Turducken was previously on the menu – that’s a chicken, stuffed into a duck, stuffed into a turkey. I kid you not.)
- It’s just a day
Like a wedding day, or a birthday, or any other day in your life that gets built up into something ridiculously big; Christmas Day is just one, single day. And when you look at it like that it seems easier to navigate. Despite the inevitable family politics, you can and will get through it. And with a little planning, you can totally enjoy it. Plus I’ll be sharing a recipe at the end of this article for vegan eggnog so, at the very least, you’ll have that.
- Be prepared
Like a good Boy Scout, you need to tackle this Christmas thing head on. There can be no head-in-the-sand scenario when you’re vegan. Christmas Day is all about The Food (well, that and watching Die Hard, having wrapping paper fights, and a glass or two of something nice under the sparkly lights), so there is literally no getting away from it. If you know what is going to happen on the day and how, you’ll feel a lot more in control and actually get some shut eye on Christmas Eve.
- Offer to host
The easiest way of being prepared is to bring everyone into your zone of power. By offering to host the Christmas meal you’ll have full control over the menu. You can treat your family to a completely vegan Christmas, and they won’t need to worry about a thing. If you’re worried about the reaction of certain family members then play up the novelty factor. Plus, you may find that whoever is normally in charge of the cooking becomes a valuable ally (A year off!), so milk that for all its worth. Of course, if you’re not particularly fond of being in the kitchen then the thought of this option may send you into an immediate state of panic…
- Potluck style
This has worked really well for my family over the last few years, and we’re made up of meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. You divvy up the dishes between you, leaving no one person responsible for the entire thing, and it doesn’t matter who actually hosts. It’s great for preventing those panicky phone calls the night before, or embarrassment at the table when someone lets it slip that the roast potatoes have been cooked in duck fat. You can also introduce dishes that wouldn’t otherwise feature, which is great for showing people how diverse and tasty vegan food can be. If you’re looking for ideas then there are heaps at in our Recipe section (including one of mine for a Vegan Roast Dinner with all the trimmings).
- Be forthcoming
If tradition is the name of the game and the mention of a potluck goes down like a lead balloon, then why not offer to be sous chef on the day, or at least assist in the meal planning. Typically, the panic that ensues at the mention of the ‘V Word’ is down to a lack of knowledge (not because they now hate you), so offer to help out, and make it easy. Explain what being vegan is, what you can eat, and focus on the positive (The majority of the meal is vegan anyway!). Be the kind of vegan you wish you’d met before you were vegan.
- Be festive
Sometimes this one is easier said than done. I know how tough it is to be surrounded by lots of meat, the smacking of lips, and a level of gluttony seen at no other time of the year, but the hard truth is that you will only conform to the stereotype of the grumpy vegan if you are, in fact, being a grumpy vegan. You are going to get questions about what you eat (or perhaps more importantly, what you don’t), so be prepared for this and have a few ready-made answers up your sleeve. We have an entire FAQ section to help you out, and you’ll feel much more confident if you know you can respond to anything quickly and knowledgeably. Most of the time people will take the lead from you, so if you keep things light-hearted, fun, and relaxed then it’s likely everyone else will too. And don’t forget to keep everyone’s glasses nicely topped up!
- Have fun
Christmas Day is your day too, so enjoy it! Make your own traditions, have fun finding ways to veganise the usual Christmas fare, and think of it as a way to show your family that being vegan is as normal and natural as anything they’ve ever known. I love planning the dishes I’m going to make, and am ridiculously happy when everyone tries a bit. Last year I made Dauphinoise Potatoes using a cashew cream sauce and I’ll never forget how I felt when my meat-eating niece asked for seconds. Some of the best animal activism involves no words at all; good food speaks for itself. And if all else fails, well here’s that recipe for vegan eggnog I told you about…
- Vegan Eggnog (serves two)
2 cups of cashew milk
2 teaspoons of maple syrup
Ground nutmeg and cinnamon to taste (usually a good couple of pinches)
Dark rum or bourbon (amount to suit your mood)
Add the milk, maple syrup, nutmeg and cinnamon to a saucepan and heat. Taste when starting to bubble and add a little extra of the spices if desired. Stir in the alcohol just before serving. Pour into mugs* and enjoy! Best served beside a roaring fire and in the company of a rescued greyhound or two.
*You can also let it cool and serve cold if you prefer.
This article was first published in the December 2016 edition of Vegan Food & Living magazine.