Celebrating the Winter Holidays with Chemical Allergies

My husband and I both grew up celebrating Christmas. Over the course of our life together we’ve had big, fully-decorated Christmases, smaller, effortless Christmases, and everything in between. About 8 years ago, we bought a fake Christmas tree with natural-looking, moulded tips, and that has been a staple of our Christmas decorating most years since. A few years later we welcomed a child into our lives, and now celebration of some kind or another is a necessity. Every time we set that tree up, my hands became coated with some kind of *stuff.* We never had a real tree because trees aren’t all that populous where we live, and I don’t want to kill a living tree for a few weeks of decoration. My ideal situation is a living tree that can be decorated and used year after year because it stays rooted in the soil.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Christmas decorations, trees and lights included, are not heavily regulated in what materials can be used for their manufacture. There are higher lead and other toxin levels in Christmas decorations than in most other things you would allow into your home. Even if you’re not allergic to the materials, they’re certainly not healthy to have around your family. Last year, when I first discovered that I had allergies, we decided to take a more traditional approach to Christmas. We made all of our Christmas tree decorations using popcorn, paper, walnut shells, and more. We still used the artificial tree and the lights, but nothing else remained the same.

This year we began to look into other ways to celebrate the holidays. While we grew up celebrating Christmas, we started to wonder if we might consider learning more about how other cultures celebrate the winter/December holidays and also whether we should try celebrating the winter solstice, the oldest “reason for the season.” The winter solstice is the longest night of the year, signalling the darkest times and the commencement of a new cycle of regrowth and light in the world around us. We didn’t have time this year to search out solstice celebration traditions, but luckily, through one of the homeschool Facebook groups I’m a part of, a whole batch dropped right into my lap. These were my favourites. I think quite a few of them would be perfect for ANY winter holiday celebration, aiming to have a more natural and traditional experience:

  • Count down to the solstice with a random “give and receive” calendar, where each day is either a “give” day, where everyone gives something away to those less fortunate, or a “receive” day, where small gifts can be given and received.
  • Give books on the eve of the longest night and spend the night reading by candlelight.
  • Have a bonfire on the longest night and enjoy warm foods like hot chocolate, cider, and marshmallows, possibly with singing, drums, and stories.
  • Take advantage of the long night by viewing the stars and planets with a telescope.
  • Wake up early on solstice morning and go for a walk to watch the sun rise.
  • Avoid electrical light sources and light the house and hike with candles, fires, and lanterns. Keep an indoor fireplace fire burning throughout the night.
  • Share a big, fancy dinner and dessert, or feast. Breads, roast meats, seasonal vegetables and preserves, and hints of summer fruits.
  • Utilize symbols or colours of the sun in foods and crafts to recognize the lack of sunlight on this day. Replace the things lacking on this day, like light, sun, warmth, and fruit/plant life. Create something for the next year’s garden.
  • Decorate an outdoor tree with apples, popcorn, cranberries, etc for the birds and other animals to enjoy for days to come. Decorate indoors with natural items like evergreen boughs and pine cones.
  • Discuss hopes and wishes for the coming year.
  • Exchange homemade gifts such as blankets, mittens, etc to help everyone get through the long winter ahead.

This year, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to implement these ideas. I think we’ll continue to celebrate Christmas in the modern tradition when we visit our relatives, but maybe moving forward we will look to incorporate more of these older traditions into our holiday celebrations. They’re certainly more natural and homey-feeling, and the fact that they’re also less threatening to my allergies is a huge bonus as well.

How do you celebrate the winter holidays without the artificial decorations and lights? Comment below.

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