Celebrating Without Food: Enjoying the Holidays Despite Dietary Restrictions

For those of us with food allergies, food sensitivities, or diets restricted due to health issues, the holiday season can be tricky. Just talking about Thanksgiving and Christmas can result in a food orgy. For the gluten- or lactose-intolerant, the diabetic, and others with dietary restrictions, many holiday favorites are off-limits.


I struggle not to turn into a complete Grinch this time of year. Like the Grinch, I’m standing out in the snow, watching through a window as everyone else enjoys the holidays without me. But the holidays don’t have to be all about the food. By celebrating in other ways, I can enjoy myself and the season without feeling deprived.

Here are some ways to celebrate without focusing on food:

Take time to decorate. Put up lights and wreaths. Get out the fancy dishes for ordinary meals. Use table cloths, table runners, and candles with your meals. Get out that old train set you had as a kid and stick it on the mantel. If you aren’t up for decorating a whole tree, hang your favorite decorations in a window or from a mug tree.

My husband's old train set reminds him of Christmas Past. I added some ornaments to make it look festive.
My husband’s old train set reminds him of Christmas Past. I added some ornaments to make it look festive.

Make some new decorations. They can be as simple as paper chains and construction paper ornaments made by tracing cookie cutters and adding glitter. Or you can put in the time for something more complex, like a cross-stitch kit to make ornaments. Or use what you have in a new way. Even unfinished projects can be used to dress up your home (I used an unfinished quilt top as a table cloth and loved it!).

One of 6 angel ornaments I made with a kit.
One of 6 angel ornaments I made with a kit.

Play seasonal music. A room full of music can feel like a party all by itself. Turn on the radio, buy a new CD of holiday music, or get out your collection of holiday sheet music and play it yourself.

Do something special. Get tickets to see a holiday play or concert. Make time for winter sports like ice skating or skiing or sign up for a holiday fun run. Bird-watchers can get involved in their local Christmas bird count. For those who don’t like the cold, visit a museum or art gallery.

Build new traditions. Use the time you might have spent baking cookies to play games with your friends or family. Sit back and watch a favorite holiday movie. Take a drive at night to see the lights in your neighborhood, or make a special trip to see one of the light displays put on by your city park or zoo.

Be of service. Take the time to help others. Donate old clothes to a charity. Buy a few extra presents to give to a children’s organization. Help serve a holiday dinner to the homeless. Help a friend by painting a room, babysitting, or running errands. Visit a nursing home: share your talents with the residents or just sit and listen.

Reflect on your blessings. Sometimes the best way to get in a positive frame of mind is to remind myself of all things that I am grateful for, from big (friends, family, health) to small (glitter, snowflakes, finches).

What are you favorite ways to celebrate the holidays that don’t require food?

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