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It’s the holiday season, a time of celebration and gift giving for many all over the world. And where there are gifts to be given, there are inevitably going to be gifts we would rather not have received. When you’re a vegan this is doubly true, as folks will often unintentionally give you non-vegan gifts. It’s hard to know how to react to receiving non-vegan gifts, but that’s where this list comes in.

The goal is to be realistic. It’s great to be an outspoken activist who is ready to school people anywhere they are, but that’s just not the case for all vegans. Things can get particularly emotional and challenging when it comes to family.

Many vegans struggle with finding a comfortable space between their veganism and their non-vegan family and this list reflects that.

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It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. You should do whatever feels the safest and most comfortable to you.

How to Deal With Non Vegan Gifts This Holiday Season

Politely Refuse the Non Vegan Gift

‘Politely’ is the keyword here. No one likes to feel like they failed/messed up. This is particularly true if the person’s understanding of veganism is limited. Be sure to read the room. If you’re in a hostile environment, this may not want to be your approach. The last thing you want to do is ignite tensions in a hostile situation and end up the target of everyone’s anti-vegan ire. But, if you’re confident, go for it.

While it can feel uncomfortable, explaining why you can’t accept the gift it may also be a great opportunity.

Perhaps the gift giver didn’t know the gift was not vegan. Explain it to them. Maybe the others in the room don’t understand why the gift is cruel. Explain it to them. Be patient and be compassionate, and you may have just turned something awkward into a lesson in kindness to animals.

Publicly Accept the Gift, Then Talk to the Gift Giver Later

If you’re not feeling comfortable turning the gift down publicly, you can accept the gift and meet up with your gift giver later. This is particularly relevant if the gift giver is someone you don’t know very well and/or if it’s someone who may react poorly to having their gift turned down in front of others.

This conversation may not be fun but it’s important that you stand up for what you believe in. If you accept non-vegan gifts, you invite others to give them to you as well. Let them know that you’re thankful that they thought of you for the holidays but that you simply can’t accept X non-vegan gift for X reasons. They may be inclined to feel embarrassed or guilty, but with reassurance, this can be a conversation that even helps them reconsider some of their own personal purchases.

Return the Gift to the Store

If your gift giver either included the gift receipt with your present or still has it to give to you later, you can easily take what they gave you back to the store and find something else. The gift giver still ends up giving you something and you get something more appropriate. It’s a win-win situation.

This is, arguably, the most pleasant way to handle the situation — unless your gift giver is the type to get offended.

(Reluctantly) Accept the Gift

This may seem completely antithetical to veganism but the truth is, no vegan is perfect. Living in this world almost inevitably means we will contribute to animal cruelty… whether it’s the leather seating in our cars, palm oil consumption, or, most commonly, hidden animal products in what people believe to be vegan products.

Veganism isn’t about perfection, it’s about trying your best and making conscious, ethical choices, where “possible and practicable”.

It’s unfair for anyone to suggest or demand that all vegans need to deny or return non-vegan gifts, because, for some folks, this festive season may be the one time of the year that they get gifts at all. This also isn’t about encouraging laziness in our ethics or encouraging people to embrace non-vegan products, rather, it’s about finding the nuance that veganism misses sometimes.

However, this, like all of the suggestions, is not for everyone. If you’re in a position where you can easily turn down a gift, it’s probably best that you do so. There’s a big difference between accepting a leather jacket because it’s an expensive gift and you feel awkward turning it down and accepting a wool sweater that your dying grandma knitted for you by hand.

It may seem vague saying “folks who are in a position to turn down gifts” but if you think it applies to you, it likely does.