I'm a Halloween scrooge.
That’s because my son has food allergies. And like many people whose children have health conditions that restrict their diet, I find holidays that center around food—and I’m hard pressed to find one that doesn’t—to be tremendously stressful.
Halloween is truly the most nerve-wracking. Sweets from strangers—what could go wrong? Handed out in the dark! With teeny-tiny labels! Other kids popping Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as they go! If my food allergic child accidentally eats the wrong candy (or gets some of that Reese’s on his hands), his immune system can overreact and trigger hives, vomiting and even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency.
“Don’t you just hate Halloween?” my friend Sharlene Breakey, whose 15-year-old has an allergy to eggs, confides. “I always breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over.”
Sharlene could be speaking for all of us. “Holidays can be very stressful for children and adults with food allergies,” says Dr. Punita Ponda, associate division chief at the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Cohen Children's Medical Center and head of the Food Allergy Center at Northwell Health. “In order to participate in the holiday, you have to deal with food in a very public way.”
Who wants to be on display when they’re out having fun? My son turned to me mid-trick or treat two years ago and said, “I realized it’s easier to just say ‘No thank you’ than to explain my allergies at every house.” I felt proud and crushed all at once: Proud that he has found his own workaround, crushed that he not only can’t eat whatever candy he wants, but that he had to explain why he can’t eat it. All.Night.Long.
Seeing your child left out of the sweets-fest can be particularly gut-wrenching for parents. “In every society, food is a huge part of how you connect to people and express love,” says Dr. Ponda. “When you have a food allergy and you have to be particular about what you eat, it becomes very difficult and, in some cases, very, very dangerous.”