Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time

It's that time.

There'll be parties for hosting, staff breakfasts for eating, and friends bringing you cookies. There'll be potlucks, dinners, snacks. The holiday season seems to love to bring on love and good cheer with it's favorite friend...

No, not Santa.

Definitely not Jesus.


That's right, for the celiac, the holiday season turns into a vast array of parties and get-togethers full of wonderful, lovingly-prepared sweet and savory foods of all kinds you can't eat.

The Saturday before last, the hubby and I had four- that's right FOUR- Christmas parties in one day. You'd think it would be impossible to go to all of them, but thankfully (?) they were perfectly spaced; a brunch at 11, my staff party at 1, a friend's party at 4, and the hubby's staff party at 7.

By 6:00, I was starving. My head was literally swimming from having only eaten a handful of M&Ms, a mound of canned green beans, a scoop of fruit salad and a few tostitos. So, at the current party, I ate 3 non-battered chicken wings, something a celiac should NOT do when you don't know the hot sauce ingredients! My celiac mama would have shaken her head in dismay. Then I made the hubby stop at McDonalds for some french fries.

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people pity celiacs. They look at me eating the mound of green beans and say, "Man, that stinks! You can't eat anything!" Then they take a huge bite of whatever they are eating and tell you how good it tastes. This is probably the most annoying statement in all the world. A part of me feels its near to saying to someone with a disability, "Man, that stinks! You can't do anything!" and then skipping away.

The thing of it is, I CAN eat almost anything; I simply can't eat gluten. I can come up with a tasty alternative to nearly anything in my own kitchen. But that's just it; I need a kitchen. When I'm outside of my own home, I don't want to risk eating something when I don't know all the ingredients. So many people are so sweet, and so dear, and truly do try. They will say, "Well, I think this should be fine..." then they will list their ingredients as best as they rememeber. But they don't know that a lot of spices contain wheat. They don't know to check for maltodextrin in their bottle of dressing. They don't know that I can't eat cheese that sat on a tray full of crackers because of cross-contamination.

So don't pity celiacs! I love holiday food. You should just see the spread my mom puts on at home. Our gluten-free Christmas cookies are delicious. My mom's gluten-free stuffing is to-die-for. We have gravy and rolls just like everyone else. It just takes a little more work! Yes, it's annoying not to be able to eat easily at everyone's parties. But sometimes it's just not worth the effort or awkwardness to find out how each dish was made and inconvenience your host to dig out labels from the trash only to find you can't eat it after all. When I get home, I'll eat like a queen.

But for those of us who face this, what do we do? Should we just sit and feel bad for ourselves at the party while everyone else eats Auntie JoJo's famous bundt cake? No! Make your own gluten-free treats. BRING THEM to your parties for people to try. When you sign up for the staff potluck, offer to bring a main dish, and surprise everyone with it's yumminess. Always keep safe snacks in your car (which I forgot that fateful Saturday) like chips or trail mix. Bring a "back up" gluten-free sandwich in case you get to a party and you can't eat something. Check with your host before arriving. Ask your boss who is catering the dinner party and call them yourself to find out what you'll be able to eat. Don't make anyone feel awkward, and remind them that you are fine with bringing something yourself to eat. If someone offers to make something specially for you, or asks what to make, thank them profusely and offer simple suggestions, or offer to bring something yourself. Use the opportunity educate people, and to show them that being gluten-free is the way to be!

Yes, this all takes a little more time, a little more work, a little more thought, and usually a little more money. But remember that your health comes first, and no morsel is worth losing precious hours spent being sick, tired, and achy. Being with friends during the holidays is about celebrating the gift from God of their friendship, and ultimately about celebrating the birth of Christ. The High King of Heaven was born in a barn and laid in a manger. Mary and Joseph were not allowed to celebrate the birth of a son with a feast and family. They were ostracized for a pregnancy that seemed shameful and not given a place to stay with family in Bethlehem. (Bethlehem was Joseph's hometown; the whole "no room for them at inn" wouldn't even have happened if family had welcomed them into their home.) What mattered to them was serving God and loving each other, not what delicacies filled their bellies.

But while you're at those parties, don't forget to scour the room for the little decorative Christmasy glass dishes; they are almost always filled with M&Ms! :)

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