Cartoon shows two emojis. The one on the left is wearing a Santa hat and has a candy-cane mouth shaped into a frown, but the image is faded. the one on the right is bright, wearing a Santa hat and its candy-cane mouth is smiling

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can complicate carrying out some holiday traditions. Sometimes the pressure to follow traditions can be from our family, friends, or even from ourselves. This holiday season, I want you to remember that it’s your life, your holiday, and there really are so many ways to do holiday things.

Throughout my years with RA, I have drawn precise lines in the sand about what I do (and do not do) during the holidays. I have intentionally, and unintentionally, created new traditions that have brought my family so much holiday joy. Before I knew it, the new traditions were old traditions.

This list of dos and don’ts have helped me to survive, and even thrive, through the hustle and bustle of the holidays with a growing family with small children. I have included my “takeaway” so that the lessons I have learned can be shared, too.

I hope my dos and don’ts resonate with you — or at least inspire you to make a list of your own that fits your budget, preferences, and overall health.

Doctor Visits

  • I do not re-schedule or miss medical appointments, or other medical related commitments, because of the holidays.
  • I do prioritize my health. If I’m not at my best, I can’t be there for my children and the rest of my family.

You don’t have to sacrifice your medical care to celebrate the holidays.

Attending Holiday Events

  • I do not attend every one of my children’s holiday performances, festivals, and events. During the holidays, these seem to be never ending.
  • I do ask them to tell me which is the most important event for me to be a part of, and I make it happen. If I attended everything, I would have no spoons left. My children know that they need to choose wisely about what they want to participate in. They also know that when I say no, it’s because they have chosen something else, and it’s not a punishment.

During the holidays, remember it’s important to make your children feel special, loved, and celebrated — but how you do this is up to you.

Travel Accommodations

  • I do not stay with family or friends, in their homes, when I travel during the holidays. Having RA comes with quite a few travel requirements that another person’s home most likely can’t accommodate. Although these are small, so small that I barely notice doing them anymore, they can really make or break my entire trip.
  • I do still travel and visit with friends and family as much as possible. I make sure that my accommodations are comfortable for me and everything that goes along with managing my RA.

You can travel to visit family and friends from out-of-state during the holidays, depending on your comfort level with COVID as well as the appropriate accommodations.

Holiday Baking

  • I do not bake during the holidays. Making dozens of cakes, pies, or cookies from scratch to give away is a surefire way to exacerbate my hand pain and swelling. It also depletes my spoons faster than I can count.
  • I do conserve spoons and hand strength by purchasing high-quality baked goods from reputable bakeries. These make great gifts and they’re also tasty to serve during the holidays. Some of these bakeries deliver, which helps me to conserve even more spoons during the holidays. Another bonus: It’s always rewarding to support a local small business.

You can enjoy sharing baked goods for the holidays without killing yourself in the kitchen. If purchasing baked goods is not in your budget, arrange a cookie swap with friends and stick to making one favorite holiday treat.

Big Holiday Meals

  • I do not cook for large groups of people on the holidays. The hours of work and days of planning are simply not in my spoon budget.
  • I do purchase holiday meals from a local restaurant. Most restaurants will make custom food to-go for delivery or pickup. Sometimes I even change it up – in the past I have served burger bars, tacos, and even a simple brunch in the morning.

There are many ways to enjoy good food on the holidays — and there’s no “right way.”

Doing Dishes

  • I do not do dishes for holiday meals.
  • I do use paper plates and other disposable items for all holiday gatherings. The hours I save standing at the sink, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and hand drying the keepsake dishes are spent recuperating from other fun, holiday activities.

Fancy dishes do not make food taste any better.

Treats and Sweets

  • I do not overindulge in treats and sweets just because it’s the holidays. I do not change the eating habits I have found work best for me and my RA just because food items are gifted to me, deemed traditional by some historical figure, or homemade by someone I love.
  • I do politely take small portions home to my family. I do say “thank you” with grace. I communicate genuine gratitude with all food sharing and gifting during the holidays.

You don’t have to overindulge in food to have a fulfilling holiday.

Holiday Decorating

  • I do not decorate my home to be social media worthy. I do not hang lights on the second story. I do not spend hours unpacking and assembling decor. Because of this, I do not spend hours re-packing things in bubble wrap or hauling large storage containers up and down stairs.
  • I do decorate when it’s easy, convenient, and not back-breaking. I prioritize decorating that fills my heart with joy and that my children can help with.

Good moms can have normal looking homes, even around the holidays.

Holiday Attire

  • I do not always dress up for the holidays. Getting dressed in something that has small zippers, strappy shoes, or requires tights can be very challenging for me.
  • I do dress up when and if I want to. Many holidays have been spent in a sweatshirt and leggings, and it was just as magical as the years I wore my Sunday best.

You don’t have to dress-to-the-nines to celebrate the holidays.

Late Events

  • I do not stay out late just because the event ends late.
  • I do prioritize sleep and rest, even if it means leaving a holiday event early. Going for a short period is better than not going at all.

You don’t need to sacrifice quality sleep to enjoy the season.

Holiday Drinks

  • I do not drink excessive alcohol, or try new alcoholic beverages, around the holidays.
  • I do politely decline. If you don’t have a cousin who brews his own beer, or an aunt who makes homemade eggnog, I have plenty of these relatives to share. They come to the holidays with love, and I appreciate them, but that doesn’t mean I have to drink it.

Drinking alcohol does not make the holidays any better. Really — it doesn’t.

Sharing Health Concerns

  • I do not talk about my health with my family and friends around the holidays.
  • I do find many, many, many other things to talk about that are not related to my health.

You don’t have to talk about your health to family and friends on the holidays (or ever) if you don’t want to.

New Year’s Resolutions

  • I do not make New Year’s resolutions, especially ones that are grandiose.
  • I do set small goals all year and celebrate the small successes. There is no need for added pressure just because it’s the first of the year.

Surviving each day with RA, or another chronic illness, is a huge accomplishment in itself.

Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy? 

The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.