Simple switches, like premade meals and gift-wrapping hacks, can allow you to celebrate the holidays to the fullest.
With winter upon us again, you may be looking forward to your favorite holiday traditions. Savory meals, complex desserts, glittering decorations, gift exchanges, and special events come to mind.
But if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your holiday traditions may look a little different from everyone else’s.
The holidays are a time of joy, and there’s no one correct way to celebrate. Doing what’s best for you and your family will always be right. RA might influence some of your physical abilities, but you can use it as an opportunity to find new ways to celebrate.
Here are my tips for adapting holiday traditions with RA.
Be selective about your activities whenever possible. Prioritize some events you really want to do, and see if you have the energy for others. It’s OK to say no.
Learning to budget your spoons is an art when you have RA, and it’s especially important during the busy holiday season.
Communicate your needs clearly with your family and friends. Let your loved ones know if you follow a specific diet, need intimate physical assistance, or have a strict schedule.
Conveying your needs in advance gives everyone more time to adapt.
If you can buy any premade, precooked, or precut food, do it! As much as your family and friends love your scalloped potatoes or homemade pies, you don’t have to make these to have a holiday filled with happiness.
If you are cooking, ask for help. Request everyone bring a dish for a potluck buffet, so the food prep isn’t all on you. Or, you can order premade meals from local restaurants or services.
Cleaning up after a big meal can sometimes be time-consuming and physically demanding. Opt for paper or compostable plates, napkins, and cups. Disposable dishware makes the clean-up process much easier.
If you use serving ware that needs to be washed and put away, remember there’s no rush. Even if you take a week to handwash your china or run the dishwasher six times, it still gets done. Clean up at a pace that’s manageable for you.
Outdoor decorations are beautiful, but they can entail freezing temperatures, high ladders, and hours of intense labor. These conditions can be a recipe for disaster if you have RA.
If decorating is important to you, look for a service that will hang outdoor string lights for you. Some services even take them down in January and help you store them, too.
If you aren’t able to hire anyone, decorate what you can reach. Door wreaths are very easy to put out, move, and store.
Stick with what’s easy for you. Remember that winter, blue, and snow-themed decorations can be left out through January.
You can also direct your friends and family as they decorate. Window clings are easy and fun decorations that kids can put up themselves, and they go into the trash at the end of the season. Put your feet up and be decor director for an afternoon.
If you have the resources and are looking for optimum ease, gift cards or cash are always good presents.
Gift bags make great RA-friendly wrapping: Pop the gift in the bag and go. If you prefer traditional gift wrap, buy the precut tape with a convenient dispenser. It can make wrapping easier on your hand joints.
Use a counter-height work area for wrapping whenever possible. You don’t want to strain your back or other muscles by bending over too long.
Sometimes getting dressed up is required for holiday events. Tiny zippers on cocktail dresses and strappy, flimsy shoes can make things especially challenging for hands and feet with arthritis.
If you have to dress semi-formal or formally, I recommend finding an elastic dress that can be pulled over your head and down over your hips. Loose-fitting pants with minimal buttons, sweaters, and jackets can also be chic but comfortable holiday looks. Clothing that slips on and off makes dressing and undressing easier on the joints.
Talk with a local tailor if you have the perfect outfit but it’s not stretchy. It’s usually possible to remove a zipper and add in some stretch.
If your holiday traditions included marathons or 5Ks before your RA diagnosis, don’t fear.
Check out your local Jingle Bell Run through the Arthritis Foundation. You’ll be surrounded by people who either have arthritis or want to support people with arthritis. You can participate in a great cause by cheering others on or moving a bit yourself. Make sure to capture some social media-worthy photos while you’re there.
No matter how your holiday traditions have changed since your RA diagnosis, celebrate with love. Genuine displays of kindness and inclusion for all are appreciated at any holiday celebration.
Practice self-love, as well. Don’t beat yourself up about traditions or events you can no longer participate in.
Finding new ways to celebrate with RA can be exciting, and there are many arthritis-friendly adaptations you can make for your beloved holiday traditions.
Medically reviewed on December 01, 2022
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