Ways to Make the Holiday Season Special
Cookie-decorating parties, family dinners, office lunches…. Many holiday traditions revolve around food, which can be challenging for individuals and families with food allergies. Both children and adults can end up feeling excluded or like they are missing out on the holiday fun. We asked FARE volunteers to share traditions that their family has created to make the holiday season more special and still safe for their family.
Holidays give us reason to celebrate, and food no matter how you look at it, is the epicenter of holiday joy. When food allergies interrupted our regularly scheduled lives, however, holiday foods started to take a back seat. Nevertheless, when Hanukkah rolled around, I found myself in a difficult position. I wanted my kids to enjoy the holiday, with our own traditions-but, I was stymied by fear. I couldn’t bake, (especially without eggs) but knew that holidays and food were symbiotic-especially cookies. After much failed experimentation, I managed to create a Hanukkah cookie that could rival the store- bought cookies we could no longer buy. They became the focus of a new tradition in our home. Every year, we adorn our house with Hanukkah decorations, throw in the CD we have listened to for the last 10 years, and decorate our egg, nut, dairy free sugar cookies. Nothing tastes as good as safe feels-especially on the holidays. – Rachel Packer
We have incorporated games into our holiday traditions. We play Flinch and Catch Phrase with family and friends. By focusing more on spending time on activities and less time around food, it makes it less stressful for everyone. Also, giving people ideas on safe foods, is very helpful. Most people are very receptive if you provide the recipes or ideas. I direct a lot of people to the Enjoy Life recipe guide. - Kara Schneider
One year a well-meaning family member sent an advent calendar with candies containing our child’s allergens. This caused quite a stir and prompted us to make a permanent request of our family: No gifts that contain food. We also purchased an empty advent box. Now family contributes tiny gifts that can be placed in each cubby door with a personal note to create a personalized advent calendar. We suggest to family and friends a yearly list of non-edible items that our child will enjoy receiving that we can include. By organizing as a family with our extended family in a group discussion, we found a way to continue a tradition of celebrating days of the holidays without adding any foods as gifts. - Rebekah Baharestan
Years ago my family started a tradition of having my daughter and all of her cousins track Santa's path on the computer every Christmas Eve! It is fun to see where Santa is throughout the night! Even the adults enjoy it. - Stacey Lynn Munsell
My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, and sesame. We still love to make "gingerbread" houses though. We use alternative ingredients and make the base out of cardboard. We layer up the cardboard with icing, add graham crackers (for the gingerbread) and then use candies and snacks that we know are safe for the decorations. Even with his allergies, we have a lot of decoration options - we just have to be a little creative. - Suzzette DeMers
We have incorporated my son’s allergies into our holiday traditions by cooking safe foods together. Christmas cookies at the school party? We will enjoy an evening of baking together the night before. Latkes at our family’s Hanukkah party? Part of the celebration is grating the potatoes together while playing festive music. As someone who does not enjoy cooking otherwise, food allergies have offered my son and me another way to bond during the holiday season. – Brett Fox
Our family has recreated family recipes with new ingredients and safe ingredients that work for our allergies using products like Enjoy Life and SunButter. – Becky Hodson
Our family travels for the Christmas holiday and always has food delivered before we arrive so our son who has multiple food allergies knows there will be food he can eat. We also make and give food allergy- friendly cookies to our neighbors. On Christmas day we focus on spending time as a family and not as much time on the food. We go on a hike together and still have a delicious dinner everyone can enjoy. Christmas night we all snuggle in our PJ’s and watch a movie. – Leah Robilotto
For my family, Christmas is all about the desserts, and my mom made sure that my tree nut allergy never deprived me of that when I was growing up. Every year, my mom, my younger sister, and I would bake sugar cookies together. We’d cover the counters in cookie cutters shaped like candy canes and angels and Christmas trees, and we’d spill red and green sprinkles all over the floor. We’d turn the radio to the Christmas station as we decorated each cookie with great care. Then, I’d carry a gigantic platter of those cookies to the family Christmas dinner, beaming with pride and full of excitement. Because I’d be eating dessert tonight—and not just any dessert. The most beautiful dessert on the entire table! – Elizabeth Layman
Growing up, one of my favorite holiday traditions was the countdown to Christmas Day with a chocolate treat Advent calendar. I really wanted to continue the countdown tradition, so our family decided to start our own, safe Advent calendar. We bought a wooden keepsake calendar, and every year I fill each day with a different “give back” task, small special gift or activity for our family. Examples range from “write a note to your Daddy/Momma/sibling telling them how special they are to you,” or “take a poinsettia to the school Nurse/Librarian/Teacher,” to “game night with the family” or “a new set of colored pencils.” This new tradition has become more meaningful than a chocolate treat will ever be. We end up spending more family time together and reminding others in our community how much we appreciate them. – Malea Kuykendall
We put a puzzle out on an out-of-the way table at holiday gatherings. People filter in and out all day working on it. It’s a nice way to give adults and kids a way to politely take a break from the holiday craziness, too. We also have crafts and small projects at the ready so the kids can keep their hands busy during lulls. Decorating an ornament is an easy substitute for decorating a cookie! – Amy Hoopis
What traditions do your family celebrate? How do you make the holidays special?