I’ve always loved Christmas. As children, my sister and I trekked into the woods to chop down our tree with Dad, decorated each room of the house with Mom, and sat, rapt, in front of Grannylou each year as she read us the Christmas story from her cherished Bible. Christmas Day itself was right out of Disney – Santa was generous at our house, Mom’s delicious brunch filled our bellies, and snowball fights were epic. Through my adult eyes, I can see that no time of the year illustrates my privilege as a white, middle-class American as much as Christmas did. And does.

 

This year, I am with my sister and her beautiful family in Connecticut. Ellen and her husband Jay have created the same experience over the years for their brood of four, so our day is filled with laughter and music, presents, and good vegan food: a nod to Aunt Kathy and the “almost vegans” in the family. On the surface, Christmas is the same as it has always been.

 

But here’s what’s not the same this year: there’s a knot in my gut that’s tough to loosen, and that’s why, friends, this ain’t your normal “Merry Christmas” message.

 

For me, at least, there’s never been a more terrifying time to be alive. An amoral, cowardly, uninformed, self-obsessed man sits in the White House, a puppet whose strings are pulled by our adversaries and by FOX News talking heads. As awful as his tenure has been to date, the events of the last weeks suggest a new level of desperation from someone clearly capable of depraved wrongdoing when it serves his agenda. As Bob Mueller’s doors close in on him, Trump grows more unhinged. The knot in my stomach tightens.

 

At the same time, climate change is escalating at a pace that no one predicted. According to the United Nations’ October climate report (compiled by 90 scientists from 40 countries who combed through 6,000 studies) we’ve got just 12 years to turn the ship around before cataclysmic and irreversible change occurs. Twelve years before The report acknowledges that we’ve got the technological capacity for such change, but likely not the political will. If you’re paying attention, you’re terrified.

 

Many vegans adopt the lifestyle because we abhor the very concept of suffering. We are sensitive souls, are we not, who believe that every living being is entitled to joy. There are many exceptions, of course, but as an identity group, we skew to the left. We reject speciesism having already rejected racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, xenophobia, ageism, religious intolerance. “In the ways that truly matter, we are all the same,” has long been a mantra at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, as is, “All hearts yearn to sing.” My hunch is that most vegans understand these truths on a level that needs no explanation.

 

So let me circle back now to privilege…and to Christmas. The one-two punch of a noxious narcissist in the White House and a planet poised to dust us off like dandruff could EASILY lead us to grab the remote and a bottle of booze, and wait for doomsday.

 

But don’t you dare. In fact, you–we–all of us–must do the exact opposite. We must never allow circumstances, no matter how dire, to steal our joy, our commitment to a compassionate world for all, or our belief that we can change the world. If they do–if we allow that–then the bad guys have won, and the game is over. With great privilege comes great responsibility, and in a time of unparallelled crisis, we, the privileged, must step up as never before, on behalf of all other species, our planet, and our own survival.

 

So, everyone: enjoy this precious Merry Christmas. Laugh, love, eat: but don’t stop there. Reflect on your astonishing privilege–after all, you are not one of the millions being eaten today after a brief, tortured life and a terrifying death. Use these days to gather strength from your loved ones, to focus your energy, to expand your resolve. There’s a broad consensus that a quick societal shift to veganism is the best chance we have to slow climate change and preserve a livable planet. No one is off the hook.

 

If you are not vegan: reach inward for the discipline and resolve you never knew you had: It’s there. I promise. If you need support, our New Leaf Vegan Mentor Program  is helping folks from twenty countries around the globe, and can surely help you. If you are vegan, reach inward for the power and clarity and heart and courage you never knew you had. Amplify your voice however you best to do it.

 

Onward, together, friends, for the sake of all that we hold dear.  And from the precious individuals who call CAS home–the special needs ducks and the old blind horses, the gentle steers, the chattering chickens, the soulful sheep and all the rest, Merry Christmas.

 

— Kathy Stevens