The exploitation begins at Christmas fetes. Reindeers endure long journeys to these events across the country. The Born Free Foundation says the journeys and the shows themselves cause huge suffering for the reindeers. Animal Aid recently filmed undercover at UK reindeer centers and documented abuses, including a worker repeatedly kicking a reindeer.
Horses and camels are sometimes dragged along to these fetes, too. Like reindeers, they are sensitive animals who should be free and joyful in the wild, not used as props to be paraded around in chains for human entertainment at festive circuses.
Meanwhile, puppies are arriving in the UK to meet Christmas demand. The Dogs Trust says that thousands of puppies are illegally smuggled in at this time of year. They are shipped in shocking conditions: puppies as young as four weeks old spend protracted journeys eating their own feces as they are smuggled in cramped crates.
For dogs, Christmas can be a time of rejection. However much we are reminded that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas, many will be unwanted as presents. Within days they are dumped at refuges, or simply left tied on the street. Dogs and other pets are often left at home for long periods at this time of year, as people travel to far-flung family get-togethers.
Animal Aid filmed reindeer being abused
The centerpiece of these get-togethers is usually the turkey and the pig. Once everyone has stuffed themselves with so much food that they feel sick, the leftovers are scraped into the bin. If killing animals to eat them is dreadful, then killing animals to not eat them is surely even worse.
More than 14 million turkeys were killed in the UK last year – two million of them in December. Most spent their short lives in crowded industrial sheds and were never allowed to go outside. Countless abuses have been exposed at British turkey farms, including workers playing baseball with turkeys at a Bernard Matthews farm.
Between the ages of just eight weeks and 26 weeks, turkeys are sent to the slaughterhouse. They are hung upside down by their legs and have their throats slit. Or they are killed with gas, or by strangulation. You won’t see that on the supermarkets’ Christmas ads.
Alongside turkey on the Christmas dinner plate is a new favorite: pigs in blankets. The pig’s route to the plate is no happier. About 60 percent of sows reared in the UK are kept in metal crates which are just centimetres bigger than them. Little piglets have their ears punctured, teeth clipped, and tails cut without anaesthetic before being grown to the required size. One-third of pigs in the UK are slaughtered in gas chambers.
From the factory farm to the gas chamber, to the shop to the dinner table to the bin – the lives, and deaths, of these animals shame humanity. But then what Christmas has become is nothing to be proud of either.
This PETA video shows the horror endured by turkeys destined for the table
From early November, shop are crammed with ‘gift’ ideas that are little more than brainless fops – tacky, plastic-bound, panic buys with just a tenuous connection to the recipient. Rather than being imaginative, heartfelt gestures, they scream ‘That’ll do’ and demean the giver, the recipient, and the festival itself.
It’s a festival that can be a particularly challenging time for vegans. At family meals, there is often one tipsy, bored relative who treats our compassion as an irritant or a joke. As meals are planned, for 12 days, we will repeatedly be seen as the ‘difficult’ one because we won’t eat the corpses of traumatized animals.
But at least as humans can choose how much of modern Christmas we buy into. For animals there is no way out – and many face a final terror on New Year’s Eve, as firework displays terrify pets and wild animals alike.
The compassion and godliness of this religious festival have been lost. In fact, at this time of year, I am reminded of a quote from William Ralph Inge.
He said: “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.”