A New Holiday Tradition

A New Holiday Tradition

by Tanya O'Brien

Why is it that so many holiday traditions center around food? Hot chocolate after sled riding or caroling. Baking and exchanging Christmas cookies. Family dinners, both for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This year, start a new family tradition, one that has a focus that is not food. It can help your allergic child focus on the positive things in his or her life and give your family a way to come together and celebrate the season together – without a single cookie in sight!

Our family started a non-food tradition after I spotted the idea on the internet several years ago and instantly loved it. The goal is to put “Thanksgiving” into practice with a visual reminder of the many things in their lives they could be thankful for. The family hung leaves like Christmas ornaments on otherwise bare tree branches nestled in an oversized vase on Thanksgiving Day and invited their guests to do the same. It was a beautiful reminder that the season is a chance to enjoy more than food.

That year, I cut a tree trunk out of brown paper grocery bags and traced and cut many leaves from fall colored construction paper. I crushed and crumpled my brown bag to give it a bit of bark-like texture, then taped it to a spot near the dining table. The many hued fall leaves were put in a small plastic container with a pen, and the idea was explained to the children.

Any time the kiddos wanted to write down something that made them feel lucky or happy or thankful, they were encouraged to write it down on a leaf. There are no wrong answers. A piece of candy made you happy? Sure. You loved talking on the phone? Yep. Feeling lucky to have donuts for breakfast? Ok. Got to sit next to a friend? Perfect.

It was a wonderful thing to see that tree leaf out, each colorful leaf a visual reminder of a blessing in our life. As a bonus, I get to see life through their eyes and what makes their heart feel joy in a very tangible way.

We do this each year, typically hanging the tree up on the first day of November and taking it down on the first day of December. Each year our tree is bigger, as the children have learned how to appreciate the many things they can be thankful for. (This year the tree was especially full because we put it up early. We couldn't wait to get started on what has become one of our favorite family traditions!)

I was inspired to start a new family tradition, the intentional practice of gratitude for the blessings in our life. It has become a treasured family practice. This year, the kiddos are encouraging me to leave the tree up through the Christmas season as well, or perhaps start a new tradition of hanging ”sparkling moments” on a paper Christmas tree.

I love that my little ones have had the opportunity to embrace the practice of being thankful for things great and small and that they so enjoy doing this that they are trying to find ways to carry it farther. It has made a noticeable change in attitudes at our house, bringing us to focus every day on things we can be thankful for rather than the few foods that we missed.

Wishing you and your family many blessings this holiday season and a heart that remains open to enjoying those blessings both great and small.

Tanya O’Brien is the founder of Allergy Mentor, where she provides counseling, guidance, and education to those newly diagnosed with or food allergies and groups seeking training on accommodating allergic individuals. She has been managing the multiple allergies of her daughter for 12 years, and shares her experience through her blog and locally as an active allergy advocate and guiding member of the local support group.