[The following takes place between 12:00am and 1:00am, and also specifically focuses on individuals’ choices to be vegetarian and attend Christmas family gatherings. Obviously the principles in question are not unique to vegetarianism or Christmas; and in other situations other considerations/context may apply.]
I was at a loss for a post this evening, and went in search of any NZ media touting Christmas ZOMG OBESITYTURKEY panic. I’ve always thought it’s a cruel joke of nature, to lumber Southern Hemisphere women simultaneously with Christmas – and associated Enjoy The Season of Gluttony But Don’t Actually Enjoy It headlines – and summertime – with associated Beach Bikini Body Blubber-Blasting sidebars.
Anyway, my search went happily unrewarded as far as anything interesting, text-based and quickly snarkable went. But this popped up instead.
It’s the New Zealand Vegetarian Society’s Christmas 2010 page on dealing with your family being shits to you because you don’t eat meat.
I don’t intend to hassle the Vegetarian Society here as I think they’re offering some good, calming advice to their members. I just want to provide the more bolshy advice on stuff like this:
most people choose to graciously ignore the worst behaviour, and engage only in discussions where both parties will be listened to. If you’re challenged politely and a conversation would be productive, it’s a great opportunity to educate people. In other times, agreeing to disagree is the easiest way to extricate yourself from a confrontation.
1. You do not have to ignore bullying
Because that’s what it is, even when it’s your family and even when you’ve internalized a lot of bullshit about how your choices are “weird” or “abnormal” and how “regular people” cannot be expected to understand. Or show, you know, basic fucking manners.
Of course you can be gracious if you like, and you can make that compromise, because that’s what we all do; it’s basically impossible to live a life without ever letting a principle go or choosing your battles or whatever.
But it is bullying. And you have every right to say “Gee, Uncle Tony, that’s really rude and I’d like you to not comment on my choices.” Or, alternatively, “Gee, Uncle Tony, why don’t you just have a nice big mug of shut the fuck up?”
2. You do not have to educate anyone
Your life never has to be a teaching moment for other people. Again, if you have the energy/time/spoons and the desire, go for it. But we’re looking at this in a specific context, with family pressure and social narratives and sodding Christmas fever everywhere.
The people who will listen to you about your food choices aren’t the ones still bringing it up over the dinner table.
3. You do not have to fucking agree to disagree
These are your fucking food choices, not abstract philosophical wank. It’s your fucking mouth, not the town square. When people “disagree” with you being vegetarian, they are implicitly demanding a change in your behaviour. By “agreeing to disagree” you implicitly allow them to feel entitled to do so.
4. The Big One: Christmas is not fucking special and neither is family
When I was little I loved Christmas. I loved seeing my family. I always knew my mother didn’t feel the same way.
But over the last few years as I’ve become A Proper Adult and started to be a little … blunt about some things, I’ve stopped enjoying it so much.
Then a few months ago my mother explained that not only did she not enjoy family Christmas events when I was little, she would regularly be in tears afterwards.
I related this to my partner. Who gave me a “duh” expression and said “Hun, you always come home and cry after seeing your family for Christmas.”
I do love my family. I do enjoy catching up with them. But there is clearly something demonic about the combination of family and Christmas. The pressure to fulfil tradition, to prove to the universe we all not only love each other but really, really love each other, to make everything perfect.*
There’s so much stress that for a lot of people, clearly, Christmas doesn’t leave them feeling like they’ve caught up with their relatives and had a good time; and Boxing Day is for working off the hangover and declaring “I’m not sodding doing this again next year!” Which of course you do.
Point? If it’s not worth it, it’s not worth it. If the exhaustion isn’t the good, happy fatigue of having done something hard but fulfilling, if the hangover isn’t the good-yet-annoying hangover of staying up till 3am catching up with people whose lives you deeply care about, if the leftovers don’t taste any good because every mouthful reminds you of another dig Auntie Mary made about your weight … well, fuck tradition. Fuck sacrificing your happiness so other people can tick their My Family Is Normal box.**
It is never a good thing to come home and say “Well, I had a shit time but at least I’ve seen the family.”
Neither the Spirit of Christmas nor the demands of family are worth your happiness.***
5. The chaser: bullies do not deserve your delicious food.
The Vegetarian Society also suggests:
Providing your own beautifully presented and yummy dish is an excellent way to quell any ongoing comments.
Which could totally work. But if your family really are such fucking tools that they simply have to harass you on family occasions about your nothing-to-do-with-them food choices, they do not deserve your delicious food or the time you take to present it beautifully. They’ll probably just keep making obnoxious comments about how it could be improved with real butter or how much they just cannot believe it has no meat in it.
Make your delicious, beautiful dish. Take it to a friend’s place. Or hell, set the table nicely, take a photo for your Facebook or Flickr, and then eat that damn delicious veggie dish straight from the serving plate with a big spoon in one hand and a good book in the other. In front of a roaring fire. With some angry punk music playing. Whatever floats your boat.
ETA: Related post: It’s okay not to holiday at FWD/Forward.
*See also weddings.
**And ain’t that just problematic on so, so many levels.
***Let me get there before you, detractors: yes, this is a very selfish wee rant. I don’t fucking care. We get one life on this planet and wasting it because This Is How Things Should Be Done is a really shit idea.