I’m not really a holiday person. Family gatherings have so much tension, and as an atheist I’m kind of indifferent to religious holidays. I’m cynical about romance and pessimistic about the current political climate. Basically, I suck at being an American. The two exceptions to my fun-killing nature are Halloween and New Year’s, probably because they’re just excuses to party.
Holidays, however, cannot be avoided. Even Thanksgiving, and the fearful anticipation of Christmas fever that accompanies it, can be muddled through, given a few survival skills. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
Do: Focus on family. Even if you have disagreements, from an etiquette perspective, this is the time to let things go. Try and relax, steer clear of touchy topics, and do your best to minimize family stress and enjoy everybody’s company–especially if you are seldom together.
Don’t: Get caught up in ancient history. Thanksgiving has a terrible history, but so do most major holidays. Valentine’s Day was a massacre, Christmas was appropriated from pagans, and pretty much every holiday has been commercialized to a dramatic extent. However, as far as sketchy historical roots go, there is nothing you can do about it. Please relax and enjoy the show.
Do: Bring veg-friendly food. A: then you’ll definitely have something to eat, and B: everybody will appreciate your contribution, especially if they like it too. If you’re just showing up for the meal, remember that cooking a large meal with so many traditions and hangups associated with it can be majorly stressful. Meat eaters don’t always know the ins and outs of veggie life, and if you’re vocally critical of the chef’s cooking, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Don’t: Get into an ethical debate. There are some health reasons to avoid meat, but most of the vegetarians that I’ve run into fall into the “dogmatic animal lover” camp. I mean, animals are great, but I think it can be helpful to remind yourself that you are unlikely to change anybody’s mind on the subject of animal rights while they’re literally digesting a turkey. If somebody asks about your diet, feel free to offer up an explanation, but if they start trying to argue or convince you to eat meat, just offer to discuss it at a later time. You can have that conversation, but once it starts coming down to right and wrong over the carcass of a gigantic bird, people are just going to get uncomfortable and defensive.
Do: Focus on side dishes. Bread! Mashed potatoes! Assorted vegetables! The “add butter to everything” approach will probably be frustrating if you’re a vegan, but plain vegetarians should be able to cobble together a full plate of food just by inflating the portion sizes of meatless options. Also, I know it is openly mocked, but I have found the tofurkey beast to be quite yummy. (I’m a vegetarian, not a health nut, okay? Processed foods are fine by me.)
Overall, I’d classify my vegetarian survival tips as useful survival tips for any major holiday. Namely, relax, take a deep breath, and try not to attract attention. What do people do when their families get along? Just wondering. ;)