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You may have figured this out by now, but I love Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Some of the most wonderful bits, in my opinion, are the songs, movies, and stories that go along with it. (You know, scary ghost stories and tales of the glories?)
You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, Rudolph, and maybe even Olive, the other reindeer. But do you recall Ceecee, the celiac reindeer? Of course you don’t; no one does. Ceecee used to laugh and call Rudolph names just like everyone else, but then something in that North Pole air activated her celiac genes. Soon, she was breaking antlers like a much older deer, spending sleigh practice in the bathroom, and struggling with sinus infections that gave her a scarlet schnoz to rival Rudy’s.
Since celiac was dramatically underdiagnosed in Santa’s Village, Ceecee never learned what was wrong—everyone told her it was probably just holiday stress. Boy, did she ever feel bad when Rudolph got to guide Santa’s sleigh, and she got cut out of even the footnotes of reindeer history.
The moral: If celiac disease has to happen to someone, it might as well be to a bully.
Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul, until his latent gluten sensitivity manifested itself with symptoms of depression and anxiety. After that, all he did was sit in a nearby walk-in freezer, eat frozen pizzas, and complain that he was going to melt any day now. So much for laughing and playing just the same as you and me. Mind you, as a snowman, he ought not to have had a digestive system in the first place, much less a malfunctioning one, but there you go: he really was as alive as he could be.
The Grinch, as you’re likely aware, hated Christmas. So much, in fact, that he tried to stop it from coming. But Dr. Seuss, as doctors often do, got a few parts of the story wrong: it wasn’t a heart, but a gut problem. The Grinch had suffered through years of gluten cross-contamination at the table of those daft little Whos, and this year, he was ready to end it.
So, he stole into Whoville and packed up all the gluten in every house, except for a crumb that was even too small for a mouse (though not, of course, too small to make him sick, had he eaten it). Okay, yes, he did get a bit carried away and nabbed a wreath or two as well. And he did pitch it off a cliff with a maniacal glint in his eye. But then he stayed up all night preparing a totally gluten-free feast—right down to the marinade on the roast beast!
By the time the Whos were rolling out of bed, the Grinch was rolling back into town, tooting his horn and distributing quinoa cookies right and left. Little Cindy Lou Who (whose stunted growth and persistent insomnia suggest she might’ve been diagnosed with celiac herself if Dr. Who hadn’t been so busy holding hands and singing nonsense with the rest of the town) beamed, and they all marveled that, even without gluten, Christmas Day was still in their grasp.
On the first day of celiac, my doctor gave to me…a positive endoscopy.
On the second day of celiac, my doctor gave to me…uhhh. Man, we really need to work on our follow-up care.
No one suffers from fad diets as much as Santa Claus. Maintaining that jelly-bowl belly isn’t easy, you know, and he doesn’t ask for much: just cookies and milk, and a carrot or two for his steeds. But first the low-fat craze brought him soggy applesauce cookies; then the low-carb people started leaving him no cookies, just milk; then the vegans got into the game and started setting out cups of hemp milk (with more applesauce cookies). Now the gluten- and grain-free crowd gifts him lumpy cookielike substances that disintegrate into his beard as soon as he takes a bite. Poor guy.
Still, when I saw Santa kissing my gluten-sensitive mommy, I hoped he had indeed gotten only gluten-free goodies at all the hundreds of thousands of houses he’d visited before ours. Otherwise, I knew that Mommy, weak Mommy, would be waking up on Christmas feeling considerably less than nice.
It’s a good thing Hermey became a dentist when he did, because Ceecee the reindeer was just the first in a long train of undiagnosed celiac animals and elves, none of whom could understand why they suddenly had so many cavities. Hermey was there for the fillings and root canals, and eventually, Mrs. Claus went back to school, became a gastroenterologist, and diagnosed them all. Now, if only something could be done about Santa’s awful insurance policies.
Old Scrooge was a rotter, but he had an excuse: he felt lousy. One gloomy Christmas Eve, the ghost of his old partner Marley appeared (not a figment of Scrooge’s imagination conjured by indigestion, though you could see why he’d think so). “You’re forging a chain of symptoms that will destroy your life and your afterlife,” Marley warned.
The culprit, as you might guess, was gluten. Since Scrooge was sunk in denial, Marley ushered in some backup.
“I am the Gluten of Christmas Past,” said the first apparition, showing Scrooge a nightmarescape of himself on Christmases gone by: running to the toilet, lying in bed with a cool towel on his forehead, and snapping, “What right have you to be merry? What reason have you?”
The Gluten of Christmas Present came next, showing cheery scenes of Christmas dinners with nary a speck of flour, even in the pudding. The last home belonged to Scrooge’s clerk Bob, whose tiny and mysteriously ill son Tim had found considerable relief from a gluten- and caseine-free diet (though his parents could ill afford to pay the premium for such foods).
Christmas Future drove in the final nail (door, coffin, whichever you prefer): Scrooge’s tombstone. “Lymphoma,” the ghost confirmed, gloomily. “Entirely preventable.”
Scrooge awoke ready to change his ways. He called out the window to a passing boy, “What food is gluten-free?”
“Why, turkey, sir!” the boy called back.
The matter decided, Scrooge sent the boy off for a prize bird for his clerk, dumped the remnants of his (questionable) gruel in the fire, and went gluten-free immediately (because, New Year’s resolutions? Bah, humbug). Weeks into his reformed diet, Scrooge’s rage issues dissipated, and he lived charitably and gluten-free all the rest of his days.
Let me know your favorite Christmas stories in the comments. After that, have a happy, healthy, cross-contamination-free holiday. See you next year.
If all the snowflakes were candy bars and milk shakes,
I hope they’d be gluten-free!
It’s snowing here in New York, and the city is beautiful when it snows. At least, when it starts to snow. Once it begins to accumulate and all those pedestrians and bicyclists and drivers go tramping and swishing and churning through it, it turns to gray mush pretty fast. I’m sure the superintendents responsible for shoveling out the apartment steps and sidewalks aren’t huge fans, either.
Still, right now, while the flakes are falling white and pristine, melting on impact with my face and sticking to what’s left of my hair (just kidding, it’s doing okay), it’s beautiful. And, as an eternal kid and a goofball, at times like this I can’t help but stick out my tongue for a taste.
Today, as I was doing so, I got to thinking. People ask if envelopes, and charcoal, and bodily fluids, and lemon and lime wedges are gluten-free (yes, yes, yes, and I don’t know, but I hope so, because sometimes I accept one because you can’t drink a gin and tonic or a gimlet without a squeeze of lime, and I’ve not yet started bringing my own wedges to the bar).
But, is snow gluten-free?
We all know that those downy flakes aren’t necessarily so pristine as we might hope. Certainly, once snow has hit the ground here in the city, yellow or not, I’d be wary about scooping up a handful to eat. It’s bound to be full of grime and who-knows-what-else. Gluten? Well, I’ve queasily side-stepped enough discarded chicken wings, half-eaten brownies, and whole loaves of white bread being torn to bits by pigeons to be at least a little worried. Whether or not the sidewalk snow would test under 20 ppm gluten, it’s 1 million ppm disgusting.
But what about the falling snow? Snow is primarily composed of what is, essentially, distilled water (evaporated by heat, and thereby naturally purified). As most of us know, distilled liquids do not contain gluten, unless it has been added in after distillation. So evaporated water, even if it came from a river by a flour mill, is gluten-free. (All those water bottles marked gluten-free are, well, obviously gluten-free, unless they’ve had natural flavorings added to them [which is as gross as New York street snow].)
Still, snow, even fresh from the atmosphere, can contain lots of icky stuff, such as the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae (nasty, but ubiquitous enough to be considered harmless), mercury, acid (it’s not just for rain), and other pollutants, including particulate matter (dust). And in fact, snow has to contain particulate matter: according to the UCSB Science Line, “tiny dust particles are . . . the ‘seeds’ on which the water starts to crystallize (freeze).”
At that, I started to wonder. Let’s consider that dirty polluting flour mill again. Couldn’t the dust around which my snowflakes formed their pretty selves have been flour dust, once? Eek!
But don’t freak out yet. Though I’ve not conducted any studies, I’m pretty sure we’re safe. Though flour dust is found in high concentrations in factories themselves, I’ve not found any stats on flour pollution in the air in general. And even if one or two of the dust particles in the few snowflakes you catch on your tongue came from a Wonder Bread facility, there wouldn’t be a high enough concentration of gluten there to make you sick. Other stuff? Yeah, maybe.
Most scientists agree that, although for a variety of reasons eating snow in large quantities isn’t the greatest of ideas, a little bit (unlike gluten) won’t harm a kid—or you. So if you’d just like to stand outside with your mouth open wide and sing “Ah! Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” for a little while, I say go for it. You’re only really at risk for looking like a crazy person . . . and here in New York, you’ll fit right in.
Do you eat snow (or allow your kids to)? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever considered the gluten content of?