Montreux Noël and Managing Risk

Last weekend, we took our children to visit Santa Claus during our visit to Montreux Noël, one of the many Swiss Christmas markets. In the United States, we chatted with the jolly old fellow at our local shopping mall. Since we’re celebrating Christmas in Switzerland this year, we went to see Père Noël (a.k.a., Father Christmas) at his grotto on the summit of Rochers de Naye. To prepare for the trip, I did lots of baking beforehand and packed extra snacks for my food-allergic son. While we had a great time, our little trip made me think more about managing risk when traveling with food allergies.

Vendors at the Montreux Christmas market

Vendors at the Montreux Christmas market

To reach Santa at an altitude of 2000+ meters, we took a cog railway up the mountain. The trip took about 45 minutes, and they packed lots of eager families into train cars like sardines. Initially, we had four seats—one for each of us (two pairs of seats facing each other). As the train car filled up, I ended up sitting next to my husband with the boys seated on our laps. There was another family opposite us with their boys also on their laps.

View from the train on our way up to see Santa

View from the train on our way up to see Santa

Meeting Santa at on the summit

Meeting Santa on the summit

No big deal, right? Except the two boys seated opposite from us were munching on big, buttery croissants—one of which appeared to be full of chocolate and nuts. The allergen-filled treats, which were dropping flakes all over these boys, made my heart race. What if a small piece landed on my son? What if he ate it, since he’s 18-months old and teething and constantly has his hands in his mouth?

I was ready to say something or move, and my husband was thinking the same thing, but we decided to stay put. We both kept a close eye on our little guy, and there was no issue whatsoever. The kids had no idea that their parents were on alert the entire ride.

In some ways, it may seem like we took an unnecessary risk by riding a train up a steep Swiss mountain and sitting so close to other passengers (and their food). Yet, we had all the food allergy accoutrements on hand—hand wipes, multiple EpiPens and Benadryl. We watched our son very carefully and made sure he was safe the entire time. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but not impossible.

So, do we stay at home all the time to reduce our risk? Well, it turns out that home isn’t always safe either. I’ve read two terrifying stories lately about families with food-allergic children who had anaphylactic reactions at home. In one case, an older sister mistakenly poured cow’s milk into her brother’s cereal bowl during a busy morning. In another story, a family bought a different flavor of their usually safe cereal, but it ended up having one of their son’s allergens. My heart breaks for these families, and I certainly can imagine how easily these scenarios could happen.

Eating homemade sandwiches on the train ride down the mountain

Eating homemade sandwiches on the train ride down the mountain

Thankfully, my son has never had an anaphylactic reaction, but it’s something I often think about and fear. We’ll keep traveling and seeking out new adventures in Switzerland and beyond, but not without being extremely cautious, carefully managing any risks and always having a plan in place to deal with an emergency, should it ever occur.

We visited our son’s Swiss allergist today for this first time and heard some potentially good news. More to come, and our fingers are crossed…

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