aka what’s wrong with traditions
Although the first heading might make you think it’s going to be a happy post about me and my family spending the winter holidays in a remote cottage surrounded by snow and building a snowman, that’s not the story. This Christmas there was no snow so it wasn’t white, unless white powders such as refined sugar and flour count. So the only thing my family was building was diabetes. I don’t want to sound like I’m Grinch and hate Christmas – the opposite is true – I absolutely love it, but I do want to point out some issues that arise with these worldwide traditions.
Christmas (Sweets) in the Czech Republic
This winter I had the chance to travel back home to the Czech Republic to spend some time with my dearest ones. It was my second vegan Christmas and of course the traditional food during that period is mostly animal-based crap. Czechs bake a lot of type of sweets and biscuits and serve them on the table throughout the whole Christmas (24th– 31st December). This means you have the food displayed in front of you for the whole week or two. Although I am not even sure we can call those sweets ‘food’. If we understand food as a package of nutrients which our body needs in order to work, then it is undoubtedly not food. Such Christmas sweets are usually made of refined sugar, white flour, eggs, butter and a mixture of spices. Unfortunately, that is the tradition. Try to argue with my grandma because without these sweets, Christmas is not what it is. She always makes more than 20 different types of these sweets – all made of those ‘high-quality ingredients’ I have mentioned earlier. 20 different doughs – 20 different flavours – 20 different shapes yet barely any nutrients, only empty calories. And what for? To grab a cookie every time you pass by? Wouldn’t it be better to have 2 different types of Xmas cookies but made of high-quality nutritious ingredients?
My grandma with her Christmas biscuits. Try to argue with her O:)
I feel sad that we’re living in such a civilised and knowledgeable society yet we obey such old and harmful traditions. I feel sorry that joyful family gatherings are so closely connected with pleasurable food, which is most of the time junk food. Indeed, plant-based wholefood can be as satisfying, appealing and delicious as their unhealthy sister but that’s not the tradition, right? What surprises me even more is how people can get offended when you refuse their junk ‘tasty homemade sweets’. As my grandma likes to say ‘it won’t kill you if you eat it only this time’. I know it won’t, but why should I put something like that into my body knowing it’s detrimental and highly addictive.
Imagine refusing a cigarette was considered to be rude. How many smokers would there be in this world? Countless, because we know it starts with one cigarette but it never ends there.
I remember cutting up carrots and cucumbers in a French-fries shape and putting it on the table with a hummus. My four younger siblings (aged 3 – 10) went crazy about it and loved dipping the vegetables. They were eating one after another. Why? Because they saw how much I enjoyed eating it. They were mirroring me. That’s what humans do, we learn by copying others and by doing something repeatedly we form a habit. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids acquired healthy habits like this one rather than grabbing a cookie everytime they see one? Wouldn’t it be great if we taught them to eat real food rather than highly-processed?
Whether you want it or not, our family members are the people that we mirror the most when we’re young. Try to guess what happens if a kid sees us smoking. Swearing? Overeating? How many times has it happened to you that you had to skip a meal only because you had eaten so many Christmas sweets you felt full or even sick from it? Isn’t it crazy how we let ourselves harm our bodies only because it’s a tradition and it’s that time of the year’? How does it affect our future, the kids? Isn’t a high time to change it?
My mum with sweets. Pure sugar, pure happiness.
My siblings enjoying Christmas ginger bread.
La Cabalgata de (Sweets) Reyes Magos in Spain
When I got back to Spain, what I observed was very similar. A Spanish version of ‘White Christmas’. My boyfriend and I went out on the 5th January to see the parade of Los Reyes Magos. It was a great experience as I haven’t been to such an extravagant and vivid parade before. Hundreds of people were dressed up as kings, angels and other creatures, most of them were on foot but some were on coaches throwing candies around the whole town. Everyone was catching sweets like crazy and at some point it seemed as if it was raining sweets. It was like a game. Some people were even carrying plastic bags to get the most sweets possible. Myself I got dragged into this, found it fun and was catching/picking up the candies from the floor copying others. However, when the show was over, the streets were left filled with candies. Most of them were ruined from how people stepped on them, thus inedible. The floor was sticky and I thought ‘What a waste, no one can eat it now’ but on a second thought, the candies were pure sugar with colorants and preservatives. Some of them had more than 12 additives and stabilisers. Another thing that stroke me was the abundance of plastic in the streets. As every single candy was wrapped, you can imagine how much plastic was used. Twenty-three thousand (yes thousand) kilos of candies were thrown around the city that night.
See the plastic bag the person’s using?
And another ‘gimme all you have’ person with a plastic bag.
The parade itself was great fun, but couldn’t have we done it with something else? I don’t know, maybe peas. At least the birds would have had something to eat. What do we have from such a tradition? Abuse of plastic, sticky roads, refined sugar, preservatives and stabilisers. Addiction, diabetes and cancer for our beloved children. What a great reward!
Unluckily, these deeply rooted (and to my brain perplexing) traditions expand way more than just to Christmas and Los Reyes Magos. They surround us everywhere and every day of our lives. When was the last time you visited your friend and got offered water and fruits? Oh sorry, I meant crisps and juice. When was the last time you visited your friend and brought a pineapple? Oh sorry, I meant wine. When was the last time you went out and had fun over a cup of tea? Oh sorry, I meant vodka. When was the last time you went out and got home before 10 pm? Oh sorry, I meant before 6 am. I guess you get the message.
When will we realise that to have fun and enjoy life, we do not need white sugar, flour, junk food, alcohol and staying up late? I’m not saying you cannot do any of these every now and then, but don’t feel obliged to do something only because the society says you should. It’s the society and the deeply rooted traditions that need to change. Go against the flow.
Why am I talking about this? Do I follow a sugar-free diet? No, I do eat sugar but moderately and try to avoid it. I felt the need to talk about this topic because the use and abundance of refined foods nowadays is out of control. These stories were just an example of what’s considered to be normal, even though it is not. Through these stories, I wanted to call your attention to what kind of traditions we’re passing on our kids, the future. There are many things that we consider to be acceptable, but if you really think about it, they are not. They only seem normal to us because that’s how we’ve been raised and that’s probably how we’re going to bring up our kids too. Teach your kids something useful. Teach them to grow vegetables and fruits. Refuse. Reuse. Recycle. Minimalism. Compassion. Love. Don’t teach them that without unhealthy sweets they can’t celebrate Christmas or Los Reyes Magos.
I hope this article didn’t sound too negative, that wasn’t my intention. I hope everyone had a relaxing Christmas and didn’t stress too much!
P.S. If you can’t live without unhealthy foods and its complete elimination puts you into great stress, just try to cut down on it. Start your healthier life a step by step. Peace.