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Double Sided Tradition- How to Have a Merry Christmas When Your Child Has Food Allergies

Does your child struggle with food allergies? Do you scramble each Christmas wondering how to make it special for them? How do we embrace the holidays so rich with tradition, when we have to throw our out to care for our babes? The secret lies in getting at the heart of what tradition means and how we can fully embrace it!

Christmas is work.  It is stress.  We usually take the whole month of December off in our homeschool just so I can handle the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and most of all: the baking.  My family’s favorites: Norwegian lefse, mocha truffles, peppermint bark, and sugar cookies delicately frosted with fine tips to resemble snowflakes.  We combat the stress by blasting loud Christmas music while we do it all.

This is the year is different.  It’s the first Christmas since we became aware of my 10 year old’s food issues connected with his auto-immune disease.

It’s a lot to figure out.  Do I make all of the regular favorite treats, and make him allergen-free Christmas cookies, or just have him go without?  Do we all join in with his food restrictions, like one mass withholding, or do I try to make his food as delicious and tempting as I can?  Of course, then one of my 4 non-allergy kids wants some of his, and I’ll explain that his food costs 3 times what the rest of ours costs, and we just can’t afford to all eat his food.  I’m attempting to come up with some new, delicious foods that aren’t too expensive that we can all eat.  This attempt is incredibly work intensive, requiring sleep-restrictive research.  I’m so new at this.

But it’s not tradition.  So no one is happy.  Because if Christmas is about anything, it’s about tradition.

I want to cheat and give him just one treat.  I want to be the Santa Clause of sugar and gluten, and grant his every wish.  After all, it’s Christmas.  But it doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.  It doesn’t feel like grace.  It feels like rules and ingredient lists and law.  It feels like this stone-carved prescription, that cannot be broken, and hovers over me.  I feel it’s weight.  This isn’t like he’s trying to lose a few pounds, or he probably shouldn’t indulge. It’s that he can’t.  

I don’t think I can do this, and yet, apparently failure is not an option.

There is a tender place in my heart for traditions.  In my family, we always put a penny in our stockings, in remembrance for my grandpa living through the depression, and getting a penny each Christmas.  On top of that is always an orange, because when my mom was growing up as a missionary kid in Japan, it was a rare Christmas treat.  On top of the orange we put some wool socks, because one of the things my husband got in his stocking each year was a pair of new socks.  On top of that we put an ornament, to point to the future, and someday our kids will have their own Christmas trees in their own homes.  

I suppose I love tradition because I love history.  I love stories.  I love the reflection and wonder they bring.  They have a feeling of holiness to them.  I’m wrestling with tradition this year and learning the dark side of them.  The side that restricts and exhausts.  The side that makes me want to curse it all.

I think about how Jesus handled tradition.  He celebrated the Passover and all the Biblical feasts. Yet he didn’t correct his disciples for not washing in the traditional manner, and but he did spend time talking whole crowds of people into dropping the stones in their hands.

He knew the two sides of tradition too: the side that hushed children and helped people enter into the holiness of a communal memory, and the side that became an idol, an object of worship instead of a means of worship.  

I want this heavy bag filled with precious traditions weighing on my shoulders to roll off.  May the ones that bring us to our knees and worship the Christ-child stay whole, and stay near our hearts, and the ones that have been the object of our worship be recognized as the broken, hollow statues they are. 

My prayer is that each lost tradition this year will be substituted with not just any new allergen-free replacement, but with grace, which is new every morning.  (Even holidays!) It is steadfast and unshakable.  This may cause us to change.  But then again, when did someone ever enter into God’s presence and leave unchanged?


Gretchen Ronnevik

Gretchen always dreamed of being a missionary, ever since she was a little girl. She always imagined she would live in a rural jungle village, surrounded by natives in strange costumes, speaking a language she didn’t understand, as she tried to show them God’s love. That plan was consistently derailed, and she ended up marrying a farm boy, who moved her out of the city and into a rural farming community in the frozen tundra.  There she is surrounded by their 5 hilarious kids in strange costumes, who are at times hard to understand, and she tries to show them God’s love.  She writes at about faith, homeschooling, knitting, and life with kids and their barnyard animals.

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