Holidays are beautiful. They’re a chance for people to come together, set aside their everyday concerns, celebrate the passage of time, stuff themselves silly, and play a lot of board games (at least, that’s what I like to do at the holidays). They’re full of traditions, generosity, outpourings of love, and other great stuff.
But they can also be awkward. Even if you love and get along with the folks with whom you celebrate—as I do—there’s plenty of room for a little holiday tension. Stuff like:
- Your date to the office party ditches you to hang out with your coworkers.
- The dinner conversation turns to your future offspring’s religion.
- The traditional pudding the vegetarians just ate turns out to contain suet.
- Your entire extended family finds out you’ll be prepping for a colonoscopy the following week.
No, I’m not speaking from personal experience.
Food restrictions make holidays more awkward. It’s hard to confidently strike the balance between ensuring enough of your needs are met that you don’t pass out in the buffet line (and maybe even have fun), and not making those needs the focal point of everyone’s attention for the whole party. The perfect balancing point differs depending on who you are, who you’re spending your holiday with, and how you celebrate it. I can’t tell you where yours is, and, more’s the pity, you can’t tell me where mine is. We all just have to struggle our way through it, fingers crossed and awkwardness accepted.
But to tell the truth, I don’t feel too nervous about my first-ever gluten-free Thanksgiving and Christmas (and first-and-only-ever Thanksgivukkah*—GF or not, I don’t think any of us will live to see the next one).
That’s because, for one thing, it’s not my first family get-together since celiac disease (this was), or my first holiday season with “dietary issues.” For a couple, I’ve been vegetarian; for one miserable Thanksgiving, I considered myself “severely fructose intolerant” (to the point of eating almost nothing but meat, potatoes, rice, and spinach); and last December, well before my celiac tests, I found myself asking, “Can we sub in buckwheat groats for a low-FODMAP option?”
It’s also because I have an understanding family, and because I’ve started discussing the holidays with them already. Now, I know I said that I can’t show you your perfect balance point, but if I could offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: start looking for it early.
This is advice I need to learn to take, myself. I’m prone to putting off conversations that I anticipate will be awkward. It’s a bad habit, because inevitably, the putting-off makes the conversation more awkward when it finally happens. If you’ve ever waited until the last possible second to break up with someone, or fess up to a mistake you made, or ask for a day off, I’m sure you know what I mean.
Even if you’ve done this a million times and are totally comfortable both with your food restrictions and with the folks who will be carving your turkey, it’s still worth checking in with them now. Think about it: If you wait to discuss bringing a special dish until your host has already drawn up the oven schedule for the side dishes, they’re not going to feel very grateful. And Christmas Eve is not the time to heave a sigh and wish that someone had adapted that family sugar cookie recipe. Even if you’re not a planner, now is definitely the time.
Have the awkward conversations now, so you can enjoy yourself later. And if things still get awkward, remember that, after all, holidays aren’t really about the food. They’re about the board games.
Have you started preparing for the holidays? Are you hosting or guesting? And if you’ve been through this wonderful, awkward season of joy with food restrictions before, will you be doing anything differently this year?
*My family is as gentile as they come, but we’ve always celebrated Hanukkah. Why not? Mom likes lighting candles, Dad likes making latkes, and we all like playing dreidel. When it comes to holidays, I say gimel.