Anyone who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with traditions and keeping them alive. I love the idea of doing something because you did it the year before, and years before that your mother did it, and years before that your grandparents did it. I love the concept of it and I honestly think it's one of those essential components of being a family, whether your family is with your original blood relatives, or the ones you have chosen and included, almost as if you had shared a tire swing for years in the front yard. Especially this time of year, the thought of keeping traditions alive is really important to me.
Here's the thing though, a few years ago, little Miss Kim (that's me!), decided to go vegan.
Let me start this off by saying that I wasn't one of those passive, I just go to my family's Thanksgiving or Christmas and sit and eat. The actual turkey recipe that was cooked in my house and at my in-laws was a recipe I created when I was 17 years old. Yup! I told you I started cooking early. My roast turkey recipe took 3 days to prepare, and it was so famous, it became the focal point of all our holiday dinners. Some years I would cook it, and some years, my mother in law would follow my recipe to a tee. So much so that even though it was the middle of the Christmas shopping rush, and I lived about 45 minutes away from her, one year, she called me the night before Christmas and asked me to come over to check the ratio of the balsamic-to wine-to herbs in the final marinade of the recipe. Yeah... tradition.
It was also tradition to make pies, Christmas cookies and eggnog. To sit down for several days with the entire family to make a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish called the "hallaca", which is filled with... wait for it... meat, chicken, bacon AND lard. It was also tradition to eat my husband's grandma's cheese ball, and her date and walnut cake, and it was tradition to go to my mother in law's after New Year's to eat "chupe de gallina" a chicken or hen stew.
So what was tradition crazed Kim supposed to do after animals were off the table?
Last week I received a beautiful message from a reader saying that one of our latest videos (which I'm adding at the end of this post) really inspired her and helped a ton, since she's been having a very difficult time with family members not understanding her new choice to be vegan. She had been bullied and laughed at and made extremely uncomfortable and had decided, thanks to my video, to start a new tradition, a vegan Holiday dinner with supportive friends where she could feel at ease and enjoy the day. You've heard me say it before in many videos, the holiday season is just as much about you enjoying them as it is about family. This reader decided to stop by her family's celebration to share some time with them, but she decided to start a new tradition that was totally about her celebrating her new way of eating and enjoying this time of year.
Other people I know take some vegan dishes to their family gatherings and participate in all the classic festivities, only with vegan dishes.
Other people I know forget about the classic holiday meal and add a theme and make delicious Middle Eastern spreads, Indian feasts with curries, vegan sushi and they play around with new world cuisines.
Many people go to their family's celebrations, others host their own. Some cook entirely vegan meals even if non-vegans are coming, some have it potluck style and have all types of food at the table. There are so many ways to be vegan around the holidays, and it can still be a total love fest for people who love traditions like I do. You see, traditions aren't only about keeping the old ones alive, but they're also about creating new ones. Ones that you make up and that you know and lived the stories of.
Several of these happened for me on December 2002. The last Christmas I ever spent with my mother. We were living in Venezuela, and we were going through the most massive workers' strike my country had ever seen. All the stores were closed except the supermarkets, gas for cars was mostly non-existent since the strike was started by the oil industry workers. All you could do was cook, eat, and stay at home watching movies. My mom and I made glitter ornaments for the tree, we sang carols while she played the piano, I started prepping my 3 day turkey, and on Christmas Eve, since we were just kind of stuck at home and I was busy cooking for our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, we decided to buy some pizzas and watch Home Alone on TV. If you've ever watched this movie, you know how important it is to have a pizza nearby since they're practically a character in the film. This is where our Christmas Eve pizza and Home Alone tradition was born, something we still do to this day, more than 13 years later.
Since going vegan, all my traditions are still in place. The turkey became a scrumptious braised seitan roast, my famous sweet potato casserole is now made with non-dairy butter and cream, I make my mother in law's broccoli Christmas salad with vegan bacon and eggless mayo instead of the animal based kind, veggie broth is in the gravies, and all the classic pies I used to make taste exactly the same but are 100% vegan. This year I'm attempting to veganize the Venezuelan hallacas for the first time, and I still make Christmas cookies, and take part in all the crazy holiday traditions that don't include food! So many of them don't.
I thought you might get a little kick out of some of the traditions we have as a family, both from my side and from Carlos's side. Keep in mind that our traditions include a mix of Venezuelan, American, Russian and Spanish traditions, plus many we simply made up:
- We decorate the house, and I mean ALL the house. Tree, stockings, another smaller tree, lights inside the house, outside the house, you name it it's like Santa exploded in here.
- We make vegan versions of all our family's holiday dishes.
- Yes, we watch home alone and I make homemade pizzas. Eating them on the couch while watching is the only rule.
- I make Christmas cookies to give out as gifts.
- We host a delicious 100% vegan Christmas dinner for our friends, non of whom are vegan but they absolutely love it!
- We play rock and roll Christmas carol playlists ALL CHRISTMAS LONG, and if my mom were here she would be at the piano.
- We take the Christmas lights tour of our city. Yes, we actually have a little bus in Madrid you can take for 3 euros which takes you around the city to see all the Christmas lights and trees.
- We eat roasted chestnuts in the many outdoor carts you'll find around here this time of year.
- We take the doggies to the snow up in the mountains and have a picnic.
- We make seitan sandwiches with gravy and sauerkraut with the leftovers of our Christmas dinner.
- We make my mother in law's chupe, a chicken, potato, and corn stew (the perfect hangover or post late night grub) but we make it 100% vegan.
- We've swapped the eggnog for apple cider although there are countless vegg-nog recipes out there these days.
- We go to a beautiful forest for a long walk with the dogs right after Christmas and New Year's.
- As I mentioned before, this year I'm veganizing the Venezuelan hallaca, although I'm going to miss the team of women that usually get together to make them.
- On New Year's Eve, we eat 12 grapes, drink champagne, count down and kiss as we watch the ball drop in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. After that, the craziest Venezuelan tradition kicks into gear: you're supposed to walk around with an empty suitcase on the street to make sure you get to travel a lot in the coming year. In Venezuela you'll actually see countless people doing this simultaneously which is pretty funny.
- In Madrid, on January 5th, on the Eve of the arrival of the 3 wise men, we all gather on the street to watch the parade, get candy thrown at us in the crowd, and watch families walk around with ladders all over the city. They're meant for the young kids who can't see the parade properly, but climb and get to watch the arrival of Melchor, Balthazar and Gaspar. Then Carlos and I usually go out to dinner somewhere.
- I make my uncle's famous potato latkes with vegan sour cream and chives.
- We go to the city center to stand inside the famous Puerta del Sol Christmas Tree.
- I watch way too many Christmas movies on Netflix.
- The list actually goes on and on but I won't keep you here forever.
There are so many ways to keep traditions alive and start new ones, even as a vegan. For me, that's the true meaning of Christmas and this time of year.
Around the world people have so many crazy and unusual traditions, from eating stinky fish to going to KFC for your Christmas Dinner (ahhh Japan!). You can start creating your own new traditions, or include vegan favorites in old traditions, and make it as special as it ever was.
I'm leaving you with that video I promised below, we filmed it for our dear friends at Vegan Outreach and it's filled with tips for enjoying the Holidays as a vegan. I hope you love it!
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