The vegan journey is often propelled by the rush of joy that we feel knowing that we’re saving animals’ lives with our daily choices. But our happiness may come with ambivalence about holiday gatherings. Thanksgiving in particular can cause anxiety for vegans, with its traditional meal that features a prematurely deceased turkey as its focal point. However, despite our fears, the holiday offers a wonderful opportunity to forge new traditions that celebrate animals, rather than sacrificing them. Going vegan doesn’t mean forfeiting Thanksgiving. In fact, with the right plans, the holiday can be even more joyous and meaningful than before.
The vegan movement has grown exponentially in recent years, and there are now myriad ways to celebrate Thanksgiving without causing harm to animals. With the rise of veganism, a growing number of farm animal sanctuaries — that rescue and provide loving homes for abused and neglected farm animals — have opened across the United States. Responding to the traditional animal-unfriendliness of the holiday, today many sanctuaries host Thanksgiving celebrations that honor turkeys, rather than serving them for dinner. At these festive gatherings, visitors indulge in delicious vegan food, spend time with rescued farm animals, celebrate with a community of like-minded animal lovers, and experience new traditions that are aligned with their hearts.
Farm Sanctuary: “Celebration for the Turkeys”
The first farm animal sanctuary to host an annual Thanksgiving event was Farm Sanctuary. Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has rescued thousands of animals, including turkeys, pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, goats, and ducks from horrific settings including stockyards, massive factory farms, and slaughterhouses.
This year, Farm Sanctuary’s annual “Celebration for the Turkeys” in Watkins Glen, New York, will be held on November 16. The festivities center around the feeding of the turkeys, a tradition that sees rescued turkeys being fed some of their favorite foods. There’s also plenty of sanctuary time for visitors to meet other animal residents. The celebration continues with a gourmet sit-down vegan dinner, featuring this year’s speakers: author Dr. Aysha Akhtar, and Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur. “Thanksgiving is a painful and difficult holiday for vegetarians and vegans, as well as for millions of turkeys whose mass slaughter is celebrated in a national holiday,” says Baur. “In response, Farm Sanctuary started a holiday tradition in 1986 to celebrate and honor turkeys instead of killing and eating them, and it’s wonderful to see how much this compassionate idea is spreading.”
The Gentle Barn: “A Gentle Thanksgiving”
The Gentle Barn, which has sanctuaries in California, Missouri, and Tennessee, helps farm animals and young people alike. They have rescued thousands of animals, while also helping abused children, by introducing them to animals who share their history of mistreatment. For two decades, The Gentle Barn has hosted its festive holiday event, A Gentle Thanksgiving. The celebration is held at all three locations on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, offering a refuge for humans who are looking for a like-minded community to spend the holiday with. Guests make friends with rescued turkeys, indulge in a delightful vegan meal, and participate in a fun drum circle.
Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary: “Thanksgiving Celebration for the Turkeys”
Co-founded by Ellen and Bill Crain in 2008, tranquil Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is located about one and a half hours north of bustling Manhattan, in Poughquag, New York. At a time in their lives when many embrace retirement, the Crains — who are both in their seventies — have taken on the huge responsibility of running a sanctuary. Ellen Crain’s experience overseeing a pediatric emergency room, and Bill Crain’s calm demeanor as a college professor, make them perfectly suited to their life caring and advocating for farm animals. Safe Haven’s annual Thanksgiving celebration is free to the public, and will be held on November 23.
As the event begins, guests gathered in a circle, while Bill Crain explains what turkeys endure for the sake of traditional Thanksgiving meals. “Visitors will meet 5 rescued turkeys,” he says. “We consider them the ambassadors for the millions who are confined to miserable conditions on factory farms, and slaughtered at four months of age for the turkey dinners. We want people to think for a moment about the plight of the turkeys.”
The rescued turkeys are then served their own delicious pumpkin pies. Once they’ve had their fill, anyone who feels inspired is invited to say a few words. The sharing is followed by tours of the sanctuary, and an all-vegan potluck-style meal.
Luvin Arms: “Thanks & Giving”
Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary in Erie, Colorado was founded in 2015 and hosts Thanks & Giving, a free Thanksgiving Day event that honors turkeys, including their five recent rescues — Chai, Matcha, Darjeeling, Oolong, and Chamomile — and more established sanctuary resident, Walter.
Guests meet rescued turkeys in person, and have the chance to learn about their personalities and individual histories. “Many people are surprised to find how personable turkeys are with their inquisitive and sweet nature!” says education and outreach coordinator, Alexis Miller. “Here at Luvin Arms, the tea girls, Chai, Matcha, Darjeeling, Oolong, and Chamomile, are eager to meet visitors and will even attempt to climb into the laps of a new friend for a cuddle! Walter is known far and wide for his gorgeous feathers and wins over the hearts of many with his majestic demeanor.” Guests are also treated to an all-vegan holiday potluck meal.
VINE: “Post-Thanksgiving Party for Turkeys”
Celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2020, VINE is an LGBTQ-led sanctuary in Springfield, Vermont that works for social and environmental justice, in addition to rescuing and advocating for farm animals.
Providing a permanent home to more than 600 animals, including turkeys, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, emus, and a few parakeets — with a very small staff — VINE depends on the help of an extended community of volunteers and other supporters. The sanctuary also holds the philosophy that nonhuman animals should not feel they are on display for human entertainment. For these reasons, “…all of our public events include a volunteer component,” says co-founder and coordinator Pattrice Jones.
VINE’s annual Post-Thanksgiving Party for Turkeys on November 30 welcomes humans to the sanctuary to help in the preparation of coops, barns, pastures, yards, and exercise areas for the coming winter. “By lending their labor, visitors actually become part of our multi-species community, having many more opportunities for mutually consensual interactions with animals than if they just walked around as a group looking and taking pictures,” says Jones.
After pitching in to help, visitors are given a tour, during which they can spend quality time with the animals, before being treated to vegan snacks with the sanctuary staff. For the “after-party,” guests may hike to the back pastures, where the hardiest of VINE’s resident cows have their own community.
Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary: “Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys”
Situated in Poolesville, Maryland, Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary was founded in 1996, with a mission to care for, rehabilitate, and offer lifelong sanctuary for neglected, abused, or abandoned farm animals, as well as providing a protected habitat for wildlife. This is Poplar’s 22nd year hosting Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys, which takes place on November 23.
Guests gather at the sanctuary as rescued turkeys are fed at a bird-sized table overflowing with treats including grapes, shredded lettuce, and chopped apples. Humans are then invited to stroll the grounds and see the cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, and other animals who live at the sanctuary. The sanctuary invites visitors to bring a dish to share at the abundant vegan potluck holiday meal.
“We love being able to provide a truly cruelty-free Thanksgiving event, where people can come to sample hundreds of delicious vegan dishes, and most importantly, to meet the sweet rescued turkeys in person, to see how friendly and wonderful they are,” says founder Terry Cummings. “We hope that by participating, people will be inspired to celebrate life, instead of taking one.”