- By Life Coach Maria Bott
When I was a child in England, my mother would bake the Christmas cake six weeks ahead of time. Each week she would poke a hole in the sponge, and pour in a dram of brandy. The cake was for Christmas Day teatime, along with a bowl of sherry trifle. By the time evening came we were all a little bit tipsy, including the children!
Traditions vary from family to family, and from culture to culture; their origins often lost in time. It was customary in the English village where I was raised to eat turkey (or chicken, as turkey was expensive) on Christmas Day. Scottish folk stuffed a sheep’s stomach with it’s heart, liver, and lungs, and called it Haggis. When I moved to the US, my friends gathered around a honey baked ham on Christmas eve.
Children learn how to treat animals based on the behavior of their family, teachers, and even strangers in the community. My dad worked on a farm, and he taught me to have respect for animals and to treat them with kindness. Yet he, along with everyone else in the village, didn’t consider the confining and killing of farm animals to be unkind. The fact is that farm animals weren’t considered at all.
Traditions are nothing more than behaviors that have been repeated over and over. There are times when these customs only benefit certain people, causing abuse not only to animals, but also to other humans. On Boxing Day for example, it’s customary for wealthy families to go hunting. The hunters aren’t defending their livelihood, and they certainly don’t need the food. Yet, for generations families that were literally starving weren’t allowed to hunt on private land.
Fifty years ago, TV programming was limited, and telephones were shared. Today, you can Skype on your cell phone to a Christmas party in China! The expansion of media around the world has made it possible for documentaries, such as Earthlings and Cowspiracy, to be viewed by millions of people, opening their hearts and minds to the abuse of animals in the name of tradition.
There are now vegan potlucks and restaurants popping up in every city. It’s so encouraging, but how does that help you celebrate the season with your family? Perhaps you’re lucky, and your relatives are okay with you not sharing in their traditions. Even so, it can be tough for a vegan to witness someone else consuming turkey, ham, or highland haggis.
You may already have been encouraged to remember that you weren’t raised vegan, and that there was a time when you lived in ignorance. But you might argue that there’s no excuse to live in ignorance today. Perhaps you’ve been educating your family on why you chose to be vegan. Knowing this, how could they still support the abuse of factory farms? The answer may lie in the subconscious programming that greases the wheels of society.
Take Thanksgiving for example; a holiday only celebrated in the US. In 1621, a gathering of pilgrims expressed gratitude for the harvest and the aid of the friendly native Indians. It wasn’t declared a national holiday until 1789. Today, two hundred and fifty years later, it’s no longer about gratitude for the harvest and the native Americans. Society revolves around commercialism now, and selling factory farmed turkeys is big money!
Whether we like it or not, human beings are herd animals. Staying with the herd offers safety, and the provision of food and supplies. A few generations ago that would have meant growing our own food and sharing it with neighbors at the harvest festival. Anyone not complying with the expectations of society was ostracized and that could have meant not surviving at all.
Even with the commercialism of today, the subconscious needs to belong and to comply; it’s a strong motivator. If you’re vegan, you may already know the challenges of being the only one in the family or workplace who doesn’t eat or use animal products. For most people it takes time to re-learn how to put meals together. Also, when one partner in a relationship decides to become vegan, it can cause major problems when the other isn’t onboard.
In the 1980’s, I used to teach classes in parapsychology, which included psychokinesis. This psychic phenomenon is about moving objects with the mind. Trying to stop an arrow in flight is very difficult to do. Changing its course with a gentle nudge, however, is a much easier task. This concept can be applied to celebrating the holidays with non-vegan family and friends.
Showing up at a family potluck with a vegan pumpkin pie and arguing that using dairy is supporting abuse just isn’t going to go down well at a party. This would be trying to stop the arrow in flight. Show up instead with a delicious vegan pumpkin cake. Start a new tradition for your family and have the recipe ready to share with anyone that asks you for it.
Spend your time and energy on thinking of ways to divert your cultural traditions. Express your compassion not only in your food choices, but also for those around you that haven’t woken up or haven’t yet found the courage to make the shift. Give them gifts of indulgent holiday treats of the season, free of cruelty – and guilt. Trying to make them feel guilty will only make them defensive and defeat your purpose.
Traditions evolve and change over time regardless. You can use this process to gently nudge them in the right direction. More and more people, particularly young people, are becoming vegan every day. The shift in customary behavior towards compassion for all could be exponential. You really do have the power to change the world, one pumpkin cake at a time! Wishing you a very vegan holiday season.