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.
(Looking for vegan Christmas dinner ideas? <— Check out these main courses & Christmas dinner side dishes.)
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 Iowa Farm Sanctuary 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.
What a great explanation of what it means to be a vegan.
I didn’t realize that there really are big differences between being a vegetarian and being vegan.
Most people don’t give it much thought-only that perhaps being vegan takes it a step further. Meaning vegetarians sometimes sneak in some chicken, fish or perhaps an occasional egg and most don’t think to much about things being made from animal by-products.
Vegans are all in. No animal products in food, clothing or any items they may use.
It does take time to educate those around you. Also, patience and understanding on either side of the decision to become vegan. I’m sure there are times it’s like walking a tight-rope when there are so many varying opinions. Give it time and in the end, it will all work out. If you made the decision to become vegan, then the world is a better place. You are setting standards for the ones that will follow by your examples. Be patient, be kind, even to those that don’t quite understand just yet. Be sure not to use the guilt card because that is a real turn-off and that’s not the goal. Health issues and the goal of being healthier seems the best logic to get anyone to try veganism. Then it becomes all about them. How could you argue with that. “Got high cholesterol?” Duh, don’t eat meat.
Meagan @ Okay Now Breathe
Thank you so much for this very relatable post! I do have a hard time explaining my views to other people, especially after they’ve already given me the present. I just really don’t like hurting people’s feelings. I think the best tip you mentioned is to mention what you wouldn’t wear or use ahead of time and to teach these restrictions when you do go out shopping together. I know for sure I’ve opened my boyfriend’s eyes a lot on the subject.
Eva @ Four Leaf Clover
Such a great topic for a blog post about a dilemma that I’m sure many vegetarians and vegans have experienced! It is difficult to explain to someone after they’ve already given you a gift that it’s not something you would use, but it helps to have that discussion once rather than having things in your home that make you unhappy (love that feng shui philosophy you mentioned!).
Thanks, Eva! Many years ago I read about not bringing things into your home that make you unhappy, and I’ve tried to implement that ever since. In some ways it seems obvious, but on the other hand, it’s easy to keep things out of guilt or obligation.
Great post, Cadry! The worst is when someone bakes you homemade xmas cookies and you can’t eat any!! haha Cheers xoxo <3 KZ
Thanks! That happened to me once too. David and I rescued a dog in the neighborhood, who was about to run into the street. We kept him at our house until we were able to find his family. The next day, two little girls from the family brought cookies to our home to thank us. Given the situation, I knew they wouldn’t be making cookies for us again, and so David and I just said thank you and passed the cookies on to a co-worker.
Great post! At work I get a lot of random gifts like chocolate or candy from clients and I feel pretty good about giving them away to charity, safe place is always a good one.
great ideas on a topic some don’t even consider! many of our gift giving friends generally prefer to gift or share experiences rather than something tangible, which is nice. with others, I am often the one who suggests no gifts, and people are happy with that. most family knows us, and that is enough for me!
Thanks, Kristina! That’s wonderful that your friends prefer to share experiences. The happiness from that lingers so much longer.
I’ve gone a step further this year and asked family to save their money, and take care of themselves. Austerity is biting hard and many are pushing themselves to buy presents over, and above paying for essentials. To me there is an ethical issue in over consumption when so many are struggling just to eat. If we have food and good company than that is Christmas sorted.
That makes a lot of sense, Verity. We’ve pared down greatly in our gift exchanges over the past few years, and it’s reduced a lot of stress and needless spending.
A really great topic. Thankfully this rarely has been an issue for me. Once my mother’s friend who was visiting from Japan gifted me a very expensive pink pearl necklace. She knew I was vegan, she herself was vegetarian, but clearly had not made the link regarding pearls. In this situation I didn’t say anything because I was likely not going to see her again and we were about to sit down to dinner. Returning the gift myself was not an option unless I could pop back over to Japan!
Of course I couldn’t wear the pearls. I ended up giving them to a friend who is not vegan. Not as a regift really, just as a ‘here, these aren’t vegan, just take them’ the next time she was over. I could never pass something non-vegan on as an actual occasion gift, all wrapped up, that would feel weird.
My mum is actually getting rid of some of her jewelry and has quite a lot of pearls, they are all going to charity.
I do actually have some pretty faux pearls, but I hardly ever wear them anymore because they pretty much look like pearls and I think that just confuses people on the whole pearl issue!
Yes, some people don’t think about pearls being an animal product. Too bad you couldn’t have worked out a trip to Japan to return them, though. 😉
“Why did you go to Japan – work or pleasure?”
“I had to return a necklace.”
Excellent tips! And it reminded me to get over to Facebook and let Paul’s family know what I want for Xmas. 🙂
Thanks, Bianca! I need to share my wish list too. 😀
This was great and feels especially topical for me. My husband and I went vegan about 6 months ago (after many years of vegetarianism) and we’ve been slowly working to create a vegan household. I started with cleaning, home, and beauty products. We’re the only vegans in our family and your articles have helped us successfully navigate the beginning of the holiday season and family reactions. My family has been more open minded, asked us to share vegan food with them, and interested in why we’ve made the change. His family has been more hostile – and I think this is mostly hilarious – with my father-in-law complaining about having to “worry about what food people are eating and hear about it all the time” when we’ve brought it up twice (once to tell them and once because someone asked me a direct question about it) and he’s spoken about it every time we see or talk to him. Seems like he could fix his own problem. 🙂
Congrats to you and your husband for going vegan! That’s awesome. It’s definitely a process figuring out cleaning, home, and beauty products at first. I’m glad to hear that your family has been open minded and supportive. I was vegetarian before going vegan too, and the hostility from some people in my life came as a surprise. I figured the reaction would be neutral since they were used to me being meat-free, but I think people experience veganism differently. Some people seem to have more knee jerk reactions to it.
If there’s any way that I can help or any topics that you think would be useful for me to cover, let me know! 😀