Holidays, celebrations and cultural celebrations can be challenging for those of us living with allergies and our families. Many celebrations revolve around food and/or being out in nature. Both wonderful, in their own right, but challenging if you are living with food, insect or environmental allergies.
So how can we continue to enjoy holidays and celebrations once we have been diagnosed with allergies? How can we reduce the stress that these events can bring? We have a few tips and ideas for enjoying holidays when you have allergies.
Take it one step at a time
If you or your child are newly diagnosed, it’s ok to take it slowly and to say no. It takes time to figure out how to integrate allergies into your life. You might not be ready to jump straight into celebrations and that’s ok. Explain to friends and family that you aren’t quite ready, it is not that you do not want to celebrate or join in, it is just that you are still learning and figuring it all out.
If you aren’t quite up to a large celebration you could also suggest a smaller catch up, attend food free or safe events, drop in early before food is served, have a small celebration with your immediate family or host your own function.
Host an event
Hosting an event can be a good option. It allows you to have more control over the menu and allergy management. However, it can also add stress and pressure. Have a good think before offering to host, will this be less of a stress and burden for you and your family or more. If you decide to host an event, clearly communicate to guests how you will be managing allergies and how you would like them to help. It’s ok to ask for help and understanding.
Decide if is the right event for you and your family to attend. Plan the foods that you will take with you and how you will manage allergies. Pack you medication and wipes and makes sure they are easily accessible.
Communicate with the host
Clearly communicate with the host about allergies and how they can be managed. Every family manages allergies differently. It is ok to communicate your needs with others and ask for accommodations. Be clear in why these accommodations are important and how they will help. Also remember not everyone will be able to meet these needs. Figure out how the event will be structured and how willing your host is to accommodate allergies; this will help you decide whether it is an event that will work for your family. If your host offers to accommodate allergies and prepare meals, ensure they have a good understanding of allergy safe practices and cross contamination.
Bring food to share
It is wonderful experience to share food with others. Where possible bring foods allergy friendly foods for everyone to share. Try to have an allergy safe area on the table and/or let those with allergies serve themselves first.
Have options available
You can’t always prepare and know ahead of time how an event will go and there may be surprises along the way. Be as prepared as you can with different options. For example, take safe lollies or non-food treats in case they give out holiday candy or presents unexpectedly. Even if you have been told allergies can be accommodated it is a good idea to have some snacks at hand just in case. Perhaps have an event bag in the cupboard that you can grab and go for these occasions.
Family, holiday and cultural traditions
Sometimes living with allergies makes it difficult to participate in family and cultural traditions. For example, easter egg hunts, dumplings at lunar new year, painting egg shells, empanadas for Fiestas Patrias, Halloween and so many more. There are a number of things we can do to help include family members with allergies.
Find allergy friendly versions
Luckily the range of allergy friendly products is continually growing. See if you can find an allergy friendly version of your family or cultural holiday food. You could buy extra for others to share, although this isn’t always affordable with the price of allergy friendly foods.
Make allergy friendly versions
Develop or find allergy friendly recipes for traditional foods and activities. Make your own allergy friendly dumplings, bake Christmas cookies, breads or empanadas. If someone in your family loves cooking enlist their help. If your children have allergies get them involved in the baking, this will develop a lovely new family tradition and help them to feel included.
There are allergy friendly version of holidays craft activities as well. For example, you can find wooden or Styrofoam eggs to paint at easter.
Build new traditions
It can be wonderful to build new traditions. Ones that suit your family and their needs. They may be a version on an old tradition, such as finding an allergy friendly recipe, or painting wooden eggs as suggested above. Or they may be completely new traditions. Finding food free activities and traditions can be helpful. New traditions may replace or supplement traditional ones.
You could go to the beach on Christmas morning before you head to the big family lunch. Giving your family time to make beautiful memories and have a break before the Christmas rush. Another idea is having a craft day to make decorations for you family/cultural holiday if you can’t participate in all aspects of it.
Talk to children and get them involved
If your children have allergies, it is helpful to talk to them about holidays and celebrations. Empower them to advocate and keep themselves safe around food during these events. Also involve them in decision making and building new traditions. Ask children how they feel about events, talk through their worries and fears, in a compassionate and understanding way. Involve children in planning new traditions, children are incredibly creative and will likely have a wealth of ideas.
Take a break and a breath
Last but not least, look after yourself!! Holidays and celebrations can be overwhelming and stressful at the best of times, they can be even more complex if you are living with allergies. Be sure to give yourself time and space so that you don’t become too overwhelmed and stressed. Pick and choose events so you don’t get overloaded, ensure you have time for yourself over holiday periods, take breaks, you could even do a bit of mindfulness practice. We know how hard parents of kids with allergies work to ensure their kids are included, especially at holiday times. Don’t forget to look after yourself.