So, it’s the holiday season? And let me guess, you're planning a nut free Christmas. While singer Andy Williams considers it to be “the most wonderful time of the year”, anyone with a life-threatening nut allergy will tell you it can be one of the most stressful times of the year! Baked goods are everywhere! Brownies with nuts, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, M&Ms with peanuts, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. *insert eye roll* Great. All holiday season, these well meaning “gifts” will keep crossing you or your loved ones path. Talk about anxiety!
All you want for Christmas this year is a nut free Christmas. A Christmas filled with nut free Christmas cookies, nut free Christmas chocolates, and nut free Christmas houses of gingerbread made inside dedicated nut free facilities! No, not Santa's elf workshop… but you get the picture.
If you’re sitting here new to the nut free community, maybe you’re on the verge of a panic attack… wondering how you’re going to survive this holiday season with your nut allergy, just remember, you’re not alone. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not now.
Speak up and stand up. Don’t assume people “get it”. If they’re acting insensitive, it’s probably because they have no idea what a big deal allergies can be. Still, when directly faced with those moments, it can be difficult knowing exactly what to say.
I like preparing for possible scenarios ahead of time and working with scripts. That way, when I’m faced with a situation that sends me into a panic, I’ve already rehearsed what I should do inside my head. If you or a loved one finds themself in one of these uncomfortable situations below, we hope our tips can prepare you to hold boundaries around your allergies. Allergies are not a preference. You are not being difficult. Remember that. It's fully within your right to be your own strongest advocate, and encourage the welcoming environment of a nut free Christmas.
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1. When People Come Over to Your House
So your close friends get it. You’ve had the talks, you’ve shared the stories, and they share the concern. They learned how to read labels so they can be inclusive, and they would never bring nuts into your nut free home. But, it’s still the holidays. Everyone is busy and pressed for time. Imagine a scenario where it accidentally slips their mind and they forget to mention it to their plus one, their aunt or uncle, or even their distant cousin that’s in town for the holidays and definitely doesn’t get it. Let along the concept of a nut free Christmas — hold the chestnuts, please!
Advice? Catch it at the door. If you see an unfamiliar face, don’t assume they know about you or your child’s severe allergy straight away. Unless you’ve directly told them, assume they don’t know. Even then, it might take a few conversations for the severity of your allergy to kick in. “Nut free” doesn’t necessarily mean a product was made inside a dedicated nut free facility. They might not understand the difference between those two things in your first conversation.
If there’s a newish face that comes over and they bring any sort of baked good to you as a present, just make it a rule for yourself that you will calmly reject their gift and explain the situation to them. “Oh that’s so kind of you to want to spread the holiday spirit, but, unfortunately we have severe nut allergy in this house and we’ll even have to ask you to leave it in the car. I’m so sorry. But thank you so much for thinking of us! That means the world.” Tell them they can’t bring the treat inside at all, but thank them for the gesture. With gift-giving, it’s true that it’s the thought that counts.
Either way, you need to firmly communicate that any food containing nuts will not be permitted inside your home, regardless of intention. Keep strong boundaries and don’t feel bad about not allowing nut products inside your home. This is your safe space, and you are the host of your own nut free Christmas party.
2. Encouraging a Nut Free Christmas Party At Work
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), around 32 million people in the United States have food allergies. To access these statistics view FARE's Food Allergy Facts and Statistics for the U.S. direct PDF download.
It’s possible you're not the only one in your office with a severe food allergy. You might not even be the only person with an allergy to nuts. If you know that your office has an annual holiday party, consider sending out an email to your coworkers letting them know about your own allergy, and then offering to compile a list of all the food allergens affecting your office. For example, maybe Cierra has a severe reaction to milk. Maybe Chris is Vegan and will be avoiding both milk and eggs.
If a lot of people in the office have food allergies, maybe everyone can decide to create paper cards for the holiday potluck so every baked good comes with a little paper label. Or, a V sign on a notecard, a No Milk sign on a notecard, and a No Peanut Sign on a notecard, etc.
Mention cross-contamination in your original email if it’s a concern to you. Simply explain how cross contamination can set off an allergic reaction, and that a nut free Christmas party is the safest environment. Mention how everyone can help with that, and how they can prevent cross contamination by washing their hands more frequently, and wiping down the counters after snacking, etc.
Let everyone know that you'll be available for questions on inclusivity, should those questions arise. Thank them ahead of time for keeping you and your other food allergic coworkers in mind. Everyone wants the office to be a welcoming environment! I think empathy is always the way to go with education. Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. I find that people will want to educate themselves after understanding why they need to.
If your holiday party is catered, follow up with whoever is ordering the food for the office and simply give them a copy of the office allergens. I’ve worked in jobs where I was the one responsible for ordering food, and the whole point is for the company to make everyone feel appreciated. Whoever is in charge of ordering the food will be grateful they were able to plan from a place of having the vital information necessary to make everyone feel included.
There’s actually a lot of work that goes into planning parties. The party planner will be happy to have you involved. They want everyone in the office to have a good time. You’re helping them out by making them aware of how they can be more inclusive. To not just you, but to everyone in the office.
3. Ensuring a Nut Free Christmas School Party
According to FAACT (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team), one out of five children with food allergies will have an allergic reaction while in school.
If You’re a Parent
When your child is younger, it’s important to engage in constant conversation with your child’s school. Communicating with the principal, counselors, and teachers on a regular basis ensures everyone can work together to create a safe and inclusive classroom. If your child’s nut allergy is severe, you’ve probably already had certain conversations so you could make the classroom a Nut Free Classroom. You’re probably familiar with having conversations with the parents of your child’s classmates.
If there’s a nut free classroom Christmas party, or a nut free classroom holiday party, parents probably understand they can’t use nuts in cookies or baked goods. Having a Nut Free Classroom poster hung on the door is ideal. For a first-hand account of growing up with nut allergies, check out our article Founder Story: 6 Memories of Growing Up with Multiple Food Allergies (Part 1). Nut Free's founder, Mike, touches on some experiences from school parties as a child.
It’s also important for your child’s school to provide a safe environment emotionally. Hopefully your child goes to a school where all of the kids are all really empathetic and understanding. But if for some reason kids at school are making jokes or being exclusive, it’s nice to have a conversation with your little one to make sure they know where they can turn and who they can talk to if things get uncomfortable. For more info on this topic, see our article What’s the Difference Between a Nut Free School and a Nut Aware School?
School Parties When You’re a Little Older
When you're a little older, you're more accustomed to which foods are going to be dangerous and how to interact or coexist with people who are eating nut products. For example, don't share closed spaces. Avoid anywhere where people might be eating nuts based foods. Bring wipes and wipe down counters if you’re sitting at a table where someone might have eaten nuts previously. Stand up for yourself by stating your boundaries directly.
4. At a Friend's Party
If you’ve made the decision to attend a friend’s holiday party, then they're your friend and you probably already know what you’ll be getting into by choosing to be a guest. When you accept the invitation, simply state how excited you are and then remind them of your food allergy. If you’ve never discussed it, let them know you’re allergic to nuts and it’s actually a serious allergy. Tell them you’d appreciate a heads up to any information regarding snacks so that you can avoid an allergic reaction. They’ll probably have some questions. Don’t downplay your risks. Respond to their questions openly and honestly. If your nut allergy is serious, they need to know that.
Explaining your allergy is simply sharing vital information that is required to be known in order for them to become a better friend. It’s pertinent for creating a welcoming, nut free Christmas environment.
And you are friends, so don’t be shy! They invited you to their party because they want you to be there. You’re a joy to have around and they know it. 🙂 They care about you and they’ll want to help you avoid an allergy attack.
But, if there will be food around, I recommend eating ahead and not risking it. You can offer to bring nut free Christmas snacks to the party, but even still, unless it’s individually packaged there’s a possibility of cross contamination when hands touch your food right after eating nuts.
You may also want to consider working closely with your friend to choose snacks for the party, and to have them send an email to every other party go-er asking that they refrain from bringing their own snacks as someone with a severe allergy to nuts is attending the party. Have them explain that it’s just easier to have one person cater. Honestly, people will be thrilled they don’t have to bring a dish. The holidays are a time restraint for everyone and they’ll feel like they’ve just opened a present by not having to bring a present. Everyone will understand when they understand the reasoning behind why.
5. Opt Out, Stay Home, & Host Your Own Nut Free Christmas Party
If attending parties makes you feel uncomfortable, or if you can’t think about attending parties without your entire body tensing up, simply don’t go. If the host has been anything other than responsive and receptive, simply don't go. You don’t need to go to any party ever. You also don’t need to go to your office party. If you absolutely have to be around party go-ers during the day, ask for your own office space and close the door. Opt out. You have a choice in how you choose to spend your time.
If that makes you feel sad, or if you feel that you're being excluded from the holidays and all these fun parties because people just don't “get it”, host your own party! You can even call it a Nut Free Christmas Party — seriously. You get to do whatever you want in your home. It’s your rules. And if you were to host a Nut Free Christmas Party, you would be raising awareness for nut free Christmas snacks. You would get to become an allergen activist all while having fun doing it. Win-win.
Inform everybody on your invite that no outdoor snacks will be allowed. Tell them that there will be nut free baking, nut free candy, and nut free goody bags. Or whatever! Your choice. Get creative. The point is, sharing how you celebrate the holidays is the point of connection and celebration with friends. Sharing love is the reason for the season.
Summary for How to Survive a Nut Free Christmas
- Catch all non nut free Christmas snacks at the door and don’t worry about repeating yourself.
- Bring extra wipes to work and have a conversation with your employer. (And know your rights! Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction that is legally protected. See AAFA's (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) explanation regarding allergies and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Keep an open dialogue with your school’s principal, teachers, counselors, and your own child. Let other parents know you’re available for questions. And, fight for the rights of your child to maintain a Nut Free Classroom (or at least Nut Aware). For more info on this topic, see our article What’s the Difference Between a Nut Free School and a Nut Aware School?
- Don’t be shy in communicating boundaries with your friends.
- You can still celebrate and have fun during this holiday! At the end of the day, children with nut allergies are just that — children, with nut allergies (or adults, with nut allergies). All of the desires for socialization and to celebrate the holidays remain the same. Share what brings your joy with your friends. Share how you celebrate the holiday, and the awesomeness of your favorite nut free foods.