It’s almost Christmas! The season of comfort and joy and music and lights and warmth. And running around frantically trying to get the gifts wrapped and the food made while still getting a few hours of sleep before the kids wake up at the crack of dawn. But even though it can be crazy and hectic and exhausting, I still love the Christmas season. The holiday specials, the baked goods, the children so excited that they nearly burst, the homemade gifts and wrapping up of their own toys just to let somebody else open them.
But there’s one thing about the holiday season that slows me down.
At all other times of year, these things are packed up, so their residue stays inside, with maybe only a few spills. But during the holidays, I get to worry about whether they’ve spilled out of their bags anywhere else in the store, whether the previous user of my shopping cart purchased (or worse, was snacking on) them, whether any residue got on the checkout conveyor…
In fact, last year I swore they were following me around the store. There was a cardboard display holding nutcrackers in the meat department, and I saw nutshells inside the display box. (Not that I would have purchased a nutcracker anyway.) That at least made sense, unlike the nutshells I found littering the canned soup displays. Stop following me!
I do my best not to mull over these worries, at Christmas or anytime. It could be paralyzing, but I usually just use cart wipes, step up my handwashing routine, and make sure all my own foods are bagged up in the cart. But just the same, their presence makes me nervous. Especially when they’re displayed like this:
Those cranberry bags have little holes in them to let the berries breathe. That automatically means I can’t buy these cranberries, and opens up concerns over whether any family members purchased cranberries from a display like this in order to make their cranberry relish or brie.
Nuts certainly come out of the woodwork at this time of year. I don’t know why they’re so tied to the holidays, but homemade treats from friends become much less edible for me around Christmastime. Which brings me to my main point of discussion: holiday goodies from neighbors.
We don’t get too many of these holiday offerings. There are a handful of neighbors we have swapped goodies with in the past, but it isn’t a regular thing. And we’ve never shared any other meals with said neighbors, so they aren’t familiar with our dietary concerns. (I’m not familiar with any dietary concerns of theirs either, when it comes down to it.)
The holiday cookie offering is something that has always made me feel awkward. My neighbors aren’t required to give me anything for Christmas. Their holiday goodies are a gesture of goodwill that they have chosen to take time out of their day to give. Quite frankly, I don’t feel comfortable “looking the gift horse in the mouth,” so to speak. In order to feel confident eating their food, I would have to quiz them not only about the ingredients in their cookies, but about the state of their kitchen, what else they were baking or eating at the same time, whether they’ve made anything with nuts (or peanuts or eggs) recently, whether there was any chance these goodies touched anything with nuts (or peanuts or eggs), etc, etc, etc.
I’m really not comfortable asking these questions when a neighbor brought over food out of the kindness of their heart. Getting answers that will make the food inedible to us will only make the giver feel awkward for having brought over something we can’t eat, and make me feel awkward that they took the time and energy to put together a plate and essentially wasted their time. If it were a party, I would absolutely grill them if I thought we had any chance of eating the food. If they invited us over for a meal, we would have a lengthy discussion about food. If they were a close friend we would be likely to share food with regularly, I would be open about dietary needs. But for a plate of food they aren’t going to see us eat? I just don’t do it.
Instead, I make small talk with the giver for a few minutes, thanking them and asking them about their holiday plans. After I close the door, I hand the plate to my husband (the only one in the house without food allergies) and say “enjoy.” (And then I go wash my hands.) Hubby keeps the cookies out of reach and washes his hands after eating any of them, and the rest of us eat treats that we’ve made at home. It’s much simpler to assume we can’t eat anything people bring over (especially with Zax’s egg allergy), but accepting the plate without comment lets them feel good about sharing the holiday spirit.
Once, though, a neighbor brought over a basket of fruit at Christmas time. That was the Best. Holiday. Swap. Ever. I didn’t have to worry about ingredients, because everything was a single ingredient food. Never before (or since) have I been able to enjoy a holiday food gift from a neighbor. If you’re looking for ideas to give to neighbors or friends that you know have food allergies, I would highly recommend a fruit basket. I never knew fruit could make me so grateful until that moment!
What do you do when neighbors bring over holiday goodies of dubious nature?