The holidays can be tricky. Loved ones don’t always know what “vegan” means in terms of gift-giving. Here are tips for how to avoid non vegan gifts and what to do if you receive them.
The holidays can be tricky for vegans.
Obviously, there’s the obstacle of navigating holiday meals, work parties, and get-togethers, which can range wildly in terms of vegan-friendliness.
And then after dinner has been served, it’s time for the gift exchange… Sometimes those gift exchanges include being the vegan on the receiving end of leather gloves, a steakhouse gift certificate, or a beeswax candle. Awkward.
The situation is a complicated one.
Most people aren’t buying these things to make vegans feel bad or uncomfortable. In fact, most likely, the gifts were purchased as an expression of their affection.
As vegans, how do we express our needs to our loved ones while being conscious of their feelings and respecting our own?
We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings that we don’t want their gifts. But our feelings in the situation matter too.
And ultimately, the point of a gift isn’t to make someone feel guilted into keeping something that is antithetical to their ethics.
How do we set ourselves and our non-vegan loved ones up for success when it comes to gift giving?
Clarify to loved ones what being vegan means
Start by doing the legwork well ahead of birthdays and holidays. Let people know ahead of time, so that they’re less likely to buy you a wool hat this Christmas.
When many people think of being vegan, they know it means avoiding animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. But they may not realize it extends further to include avoiding wool, leather, silk, feathers, and fur.
(Need help? Share this list of what to avoid when getting gifts for vegans.)
Teach by example
When you’re shopping with friends or family, don’t hide the fact that you’re checking the material list on sweaters and shoes.
If they know you always look before buying pillows and jackets, they’re more likely to remember that when picking up an item for you.
Make a list
In my family, we draw names. After names are drawn, I send out an email encouraging everyone to make a list of 5 things they would like.
You can do something similar. Or make a favorites list on Etsy and share it.
If you give people ideas for the kinds of things you’d like, they are more likely to give you vegan gifts like an Herbivore sweatshirt, rather than a mohair sweater.
If you prefer to make a general list, you could add descriptions like: “I’d like a pair of non-leather running shoes.”
Talk to the person in charge of purchasing gifts at your office
If you know your boss usually gives out smoked sausages or gift certificates to the steakhouse, let them know that you are vegan and to keep you off the list.
Or suggest a fruit basket or movie theatre gift certificate instead.
What to do if you receive a non-vegan gift
So it’s Christmas Day. You open a beautifully wrapped package. And inside there are boots made with lamb’s skin or a down jacket stuffed with the feathers of geese.
What do you do?
If the gift came with a receipt attached, you could take it to the store without discussion, and exchange it for something else. However, that will mean that next year, you could be facing the same thing.
Ultimately, if this is a person with whom you will be exchanging gifts yearly, it’s better to have an uncomfortable discussion once than repeated uncomfortable gift exchanges every year.
However, I prefer to broach the subject when it’s not Christmas Day. I want to avoid hurting feelings.
And on the holiday itself when there are loads of people gathered around, it isn’t the best time for a candid discussion. I prefer to wait until a quieter time when I am one on one with the gift giver.
People return presents for all kinds of reasons
On December 26th, the mall is full of people who thought their gifts were too tight, too big, not their style, or not the right color. Gift exchange isn’t unusual, even if the reason is different from some other people’s.
Start by couching the discussion in a compliment.
Say something like, “Thank you for the skirt you gave me. You really pegged my style with the cut. Unfortunately, I looked at the label once I got home. And I noticed that it’s made of rabbit hair. As you know, I’m vegan, and I don’t eat or wear anything that came from an animal.”
“Could I get the receipt from you, so that I can see if the store has a skirt with a similar style that’s made with cotton instead?”
What about re-gifting non-vegan items?
The problem with re-gifting non-vegan items is that it can send mixed messages. If people see vegans giving leather, wool, and silk, they could mistakenly assume vegans are comfortable receiving those things too.
Plus, as someone who is vegan, I don’t want to contribute to the concept that the bodies of animals are gift ideas.
In the same way that becoming vegan is a learning process, it’s also a learning process for the people in our lives.
Over time, people understand when we gently guide with love and compassion.
Now that I’ve been vegan for many years, I don’t remember the last time that someone gave me non vegan gifts. But if we don’t share with our loved ones what matters to us, they’ll never know.
Content and photos updated December 2019. Originally posted December 2015.