“But it’s Christmas!” “But I don’t care!”

Our Guest Poster is Queen of Thorns, and this post is part of our Summer Slowdown repost series (originally published December 18, 2010 at Ideologically Impure)
P.S. This was meant to go up last week, but scheduling got confused – apologies – still relevant for this time of year though.

[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.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, relationships, social justice, Sociology

Tags: ,

10 replies

  1. *standing ovation*
    Some people are really invested in #5. This year I wanted to do the charity thing instead of buying real presents. My mum was keen but my grandma was really hostile, saying it was symptomatic of how the family’s falling apart, that my unenthusiasm was like a disease, I was ruining Christmas for everyone, etc etc. Apparently Christmas has to follow a strict formula otherwise it means that no one loves anyone.

  2. Thanks Amazing Kim! I was pondering writing a new version for this season but life got in the way. There’s a definite need for some people to tick all the boxes that will objectively prove Your Family Is Normal And Good.

  3. Yesterday was a number 4 special for me, we went out for the day with my brother-in-law and his family. When we met up I said cheerful hello to his wife and she turned her back on me. It went downhill from there. I asked my husband why we were doing this and he said “because we don’t see them any other time all year.” Yeah, there’s a reason for that.

  4. Agree so much! I’m vegan, so there’s all the food choices crap, including one part of the family that make a point of ensuring they won’t feed me, by adding cheese to green salads etc. (I either don’t go there or arrange my own food on the rare occasions that we do.)
    We now do (secular) Xmas home with just husband, the kids and me. We then catch up with families on other days. Boxing Day is good, because we can say that we’ll just have/bring left overs, which seems to take a lot of expectations off the table.
    I and the husband have also demonstrated a willingness to calmly leave or ask people not to be so rude, which applies to way more issues than my food choices as we both have rather dysfunctional families. That works really well. Queen of Thorns is completely right!

  5. It submitted before I finished!
    I was about to offer support to Mimbles! It sounds like your SIL is a nightmare! It’s always worse with a SO’s family. You don’t want to burn their bridges for them (been there!).

  6. @mimbles: Exactly!

  7. “Fuck sacrificing your happiness so other people can tick their My Family Is Normal box.”
    Heh, THIS. I lost my reason and decided to fly down this year, but only for a close family member who’s just moved back to Australia, and another who’s very very old. Oh and should I say “hey this is my same sex life partner get used to it?” Well, I hated most of Xmas. There’s a reason I live 3000km away from my family. Next Xmas period I’m travelling again, or… something not this.
    Good article!!

  8. Xmas means at least two gatherings (there’s a family birthday and farewell for an overseas visitor in there too) with my homophobic, racist, anti-semitic, sexist BIL… there’s probably a few other boxes I haven’t ticked there. There is another kinda-sorta-relative who likes to get on my nerves by being “edgy and non-pee-cee!!”, too. Good times.

  9. Right on the money!
    Re. #5 I am finally giving up on cooking for family members who refuse to even try what I have made because it’s vegan or because I cooked it. Not worth it. More for me.
    “Fuck sacrificing your happiness so other people can tick their My Family Is Normal box.”
    I need this on a plaque or something! Screw stressing out over entertaining people who will do nothing but criticise you and tell you all your choices are wrong! Either say something or just don’t spend time with them if they can’t be civil.

  10. This thread reminds me of the touching and boundaries thread from Feministe.

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