Changing Focus for the Holidays

Patient Expert

Growing up, my mother provided my five siblings and me with magical holiday memories that have stayed with me throughout my life. Holiday decorations, cooking big holiday meals, waking up early to see what Santa Claus had left, and spending time with family — all moments I cherish.

Those years also taught me lessons of what I didn’t want to do as a mother myself. Although our meals were elaborate and fun to make together, I often felt sad for my mom. She stayed up late into the night and was too tired to really enjoy our enthusiasm at 5 in the morning to see what Santa had brought. While we were enjoying our new gifts, she was working away in the kitchen to prepare more food than we would ever consume. It was her gift to us, but what we really wanted was her to come sit beside us and just be present.

When I became a mother, I decided right away to keep things simple. I would prepare a few favorites for the holidays and then call it quits. Plus, I would only prepare food we enjoyed. This simple decision is one of the best that I made for my family and later for my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

My family of four lives more than 700 miles from my siblings, so we generally spend the holidays alone. Over the years we have discovered that we don’t particularly like turkey and all the other holidays staples. Instead, we like mixing things up a little.

Over the years, we have experimented with different foods until we finally all agreed that baked burritos were our holiday food. Christmas Eve afternoon, my kids and I prepare the burritos. This recipe came from my mom and was a favorite growing up. We save this special treat only for the holidays.

The job of making the burritos requires all three of us work together. We lay out the tortillas on the kitchen table, add refried beans, steak I cooked with tomato sauce and spices, cheese, onions, and for my husband, jalapenos. Then we wrap them up in foil and put them in the refrigerator until the next day. On Christmas day we put them in the oven to bake while we prepare a few side dishes such as Mexican rice and chips with guacamole. On Christmas Eve we also prepare one gluten-free dessert and buy an apple pie. Simple. The rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is ours to do something together as a family. We choose a different activity every Christmas Eve before coming home to watch “Elf” together and watch the kids open their gifts from each other. On Christmas morning, I wake up and sit with the family, not worrying about food.

Changing the focus for the holidays - burrito fun
Cathy’s family prepping their annual Christmas burritos.

Credit: Cathy Kramer

My decision to keep the holidays simple came from my own experiences and the type of mother I wanted to be, but it was also a decision that benefitted me greatly when RA became a part of my life. The simplicity of our holidays has allowed me to keep up with our traditions.

RA has a special way of demanding that we simplify our lives. Often, it means changing traditions and allowing something new to blossom that can be just as wonderful and memorable, yet is in alignment with what we can physically do.

Enjoy your holidays. Choose to do the things that bring you the most joy. You are worth it. Simplifying at the holidays may feel like you have let RA win, but in fact, by reducing the workload, you just may be making the holidays a little sweeter for all.

Cathy’s family enjoying their very burrito Christmas
Cathy’s family enjoying their very burrito Christmas.