Be considerate. Really, this is the most important holiday/life tip for ANYONE. But just keeping other people's feelings and needs in mind will go a long way. Hosts: You don't have to learn new ways of cooking or anything, but just make sure a few dishes have no meat. Guests: Don't make a fuss or recoil in horror from the turkey or anything. I count it as a success when no one has really noticed what I was or wasn't eating.
Remember that it's just one meal. Hosts: Don't go crazy trying to provide a giant balanced meal. Just make sure that there are a few things your vegetarian can eat. If you have mashed potatoes and/or bread and don't put meat in all your vegetable sides, you're probably there already. And guests: You will live without a protein or whatever. It's one meal. You can eat salad or veggie sides and bread and dessert and you'll probably be fine for a few hours until you can go home and eat whatever you want. (Obviously, if you're hosting a vegetarian houseguest for a few days, it's worth having a bigger conversation!)
Okay, let's talk about communication for a moment. A few related tips:
- Hosts: If you're planning to thoughtfully make something for the vegetarian(s) that you don't think others will eat, check with them first as to whether they want that particular thing. For example: I don't much care for eggplant. I'd rather eat salad and bread for a meal than make myself choke down an eggplant dish to be polite while feeling guilty that someone went to the trouble to make it for me.
- Vegetarians: If you want something specific, offer to make and bring it. Vegetarian stuffing and gravy is a good example here.
- Remember that there are various levels of vegetarianism, and ask if you're not sure what someone will eat. For example: My vegetarianism ends at marshmallows.
- Vegetarians: It's okay to ask what's in things if you need to, but try not to be annoying about it or bother the host when they're trying to do a million things. At holiday events, I usually have my mom try things for me if possible and let me know if they seem safe, and only ask if I really need to, and try to let it go rather than grill people about whether there might be a little chicken stock in something. (In restaurants, I ask all the time because I'm paying them to feed me.)
- Hosts: Try to see such inquiries as a simple request for information rather than a complaint or value judgment.
- Everyone: If you're bringing a dish to a potluck or anywhere where you don't know some of the people you're eating with, consider just labeling it with the ingredients so no one has to hunt down who made what to ask. Vegetarians, people with food allergies, and picky eaters will all thank you.
- DON'T LIE. Seriously. Lying to someone about what is in their food is a bad idea for all sorts of reasons.
Don't take it too personally. Hosts: Vegetarians are not declining to eat meat in order to offend you. Guests: People are not serving meat in order to offend you, and MOST of the time when people don't provide anything you can eat it's an error of thoughtlessness or ignorance rather than deliberate exclusion. Everyone: What other people eat isn't about you. Try not to take it as a personal attack.
Don't proselytize or harangue or tease, either of you. Vegetarians: No one enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner wants to be told your reasons for not eating meat (unless they ask, I guess). And seriously, don't try to shame people. You're ruining it for the rest of us. Meat eaters: No vegetarian has ever been convinced to eat meat by being teased or yelled at in front of a group of people. I promise. If you must, treat it like any other slightly weird personality trait that does not actually affect you in the slightest.
And remember: It doesn't have to be about the food. At least in theory, holidays are about spending time with people you love! If you keep that in mind, it's easier not to get stressed out about what anyone's eating or not eating. Have fun!