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‘Tis the Season: Thoughtful Holiday Gatherings

Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday!  We love the concept of Giving Tuesday. 
In this issue we’re talking about extending that sentiment throughout the holidays: No lines, no crazy mobs – just gobs of thoughtful ideas on how to make your holiday season meaningful and memorable!

Whatever holidays you celebrate, it’s highly likely that there will be parties and there will be gifts.  And while we love both things, there’s a way to infuse your holidays with as much meaning as possible by focusing on gathering and giving with intention.  What does this mean?  It means planning events and/or selecting or making gifts that are thoughtful, compassionate, cruelty-free, and most importantly, that create memories.  Fear not, this approach is simple and economical, and will really get you in the spirit.

Come Together & Create

People love a good party.  By nature, we are instinctively programmed to don sparkly party dresses and sip mulled wine in the company of interesting and like-minded folk.  Maybe not exactly that combination, but a spirited gathering does something that even the best Facebook status or Twitter feed can’t do – create connectedness.  This connection doesn’t have to happen en masse – Meet a friend for coffee, gather some girlfriends for a quick workout, or spend time with company at the dog park.  Whatever it is that you like to do and whomever you like to do it with, get to it!  The holidays are a time to reconnect with the joy of togetherness.  Here are some ideas for fabulous and easy-to-throw-together gatherings that put the focus back on connecting, rather than holiday shopping.  I’ve even added options for extra credit (because you’re overachievers) and playlist recommendations because, well, I want to be invited.

Growing Up Veg: Cookie Exchange 2010
Cookie Exchange:
Let’s just tack on an extra 5lbs to the scale right now, folks.  The holidays mean cookies, and cookies – namely vegan cookies – mean party in your mouth.  Share the party by bringing friends together over baking sheets, parchment, and spiced punch.  Our Vegucated maestra and gorgeous new mom, Marisa, wrote a guide to throwing the best cookie party ever.  Have baking sheets, cookie tins, and basic ingredients (vegan sugar, flour, oil) at the ready and you’ve got a party.  Check out The Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book or Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar for recipe inspiration.

Extra Credit: Since it’s (almost) humanly impossible to eat so many cookies, you’re going to put lots of them in tins and gift them to people.  Take it a step further and bring a tin by for a homeless person you know, or to the yoga instructor who makes your day so bright and peaceful.
Recommended Playlist: Complete Greatest Hits by The Cars & My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters and Men

The Dolce Pita: Vegan Casserole Recipe

Casserole Swap: 
Calling all Betty Drapers!  Casseroles no longer make you the bane of the party world.  In fact, their economical and stick-to-your-ribs charm make them a party favorite.  Kitschy, inexpensive touches make this party concept so fun. Snag cheap and cheerful aprons and ceramic baking dishes at the thrift store (make sure they don’t contain lead and wash them before using, of course).  Invite your friends over and ask them to bring a veg-friendly casserole recipe and any exotic ingredients they may need (you’ll have the Earth Balance, onions, garlic, and other basics on hand).  Then give ’em an apron, a dish, and perhaps a vintage cocktail and get cooking.  Once your creations have cooked, invite more friends over to partake.  A piping hot plate of vegan comfort food will welcome them in from the cold, and mulled wine (why am I so obsessed?) and good company will keep them there.  And yes, Mac and Cheez totally counts as a casserole, and it’s completely okay if four people make that.

Extra Credit: Bring the casserole over to a lonely senior or to a homeless shelter.
Recommended Playlist: Mad Men: A Musical Companion by Various Artists & Dirty Dancing by Various Artists (air saxophone playing encouraged for Track 1)

WREN Handmade: Paper Ornaments

Ornament Making:
Like most people, I go to Anthropologie when I feel blue.  It sounds odd, but looking at all of those amazing, repurposed window displays really puts me right and gets my creative juices flowing.  And ya know what?  You have most of those raw materials hanging around your home right now.  Why not put those magazines clippings, stray buttons, and fabric scraps to good use and make some ornaments?  If you’re not the trimming the tree type, these ornaments make great gift toppers, or gifts on their own.  Ask pals to bring their own scissors and any recycled materials they’d like to share (colorful magazine scraps, thread, sequins, beads from broken necklaces, fabric, twigs, etc).  Set up a circle in the middle of the room with cruelty-free glue, pens, and other materials.  Serve vegan hot cocoa and little nibbles (perhaps from the aforementioned cookie party…), and let the creativity flow!  Get the kids in on the action, too.  And don’t feel limited to ornaments – This handy guide provides lots of ideas for turning supposed trash in to holiday treasures.

Extra Credit: Arrange to bring the ornaments to a women’s shelter or a hospice facility where you can give each resident their own ornament.  It’s a small gesture that will mean so much.
Recommended Playlist: The Lumineers by The Lumineers & Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons

Party with a Purpose

Gathering for good is one of the most satisfying experiences year-round.  Here are some ideas for getting your friends and family together in a way that will not only inspire great joy and big memories, but will also put some warm fuzzies back into the world.  Just add great music, good food, and your peeps.

Rosey by Richard Phibbs - Bowties & Bandanas, Portraits of Shelter Animals
Craft to Bring Shelter Animals Joy:
The holidays can be a very lonely time for animals in shelters, especially senior animals who experience an unfair and lower likelihood of being adopted.  Why not put your creativity to good use by making treatstoys, or a flashy bandana from recycled materials to get them noticed?  Check with your local animal shelter to see if they have a group that makes toys for the animals on the regular, and to understand their specific needs.  There are some beautiful and creative sites out there that help you leverage your talents (quilting, knitting, sewing, painting…) to bring joy to our needy shelter critters.  This is also a fantastic way to get kids of all ages involved, while teaching them about animals in shelters.

Malichi Taylor delights at his new toy at a MyStuff event
Brighten the Life of a Foster Child: 
As a social worker, youth in the foster care system are near and dear to my heart.  Many spend most of their childhoods shuffling from one foster or group home to another, some without even a suitcase to call their own.  And far too many never receive anything for the holidays.  Why not contact your local child welfare organization and propose a donation drive or making suitcase care packages?  Ask your friends to bring new or gently used suitcases and duffel bags to your home, then stuff ’em with goodies that will delight any child or teen.  Or join a My Stuff Bags party.  Child welfare organizations will have good ideas and even wish lists for what their kiddos want and need, but favorites are always: Gift cards to easily accessible stores (Target, Grocery Stores (many older youth will soon be on their own and will appreciate this), etc), a cool set of headphones, dolls and plush animals, an inexpensive e-reader, cozy pyjamas.  Think: Lightweight, functional, and fun.  This party will not only bring hope and warmth to those who receive the care packages, but will also hit home to your family and friends how fortunate you are to simply have each other.

Have a favorite holiday party idea or tradition you’d like to share?  Spill in the Vegucated Schoolhouse Community Forum!

Ashlee Piper

Ashlee Piper is Writer & Community Manager at GetVegucated.  She is a social worker and AADP-certified Holistic Health Counselor who shepherds people toward a more compassionate, cruelty-free, and joyful lifestyle.  Her no-nonsense tips and insights for a happy veg life can also be found via her mischievous blog, The Little Foxes