How to Approach the Holiday Season Amidst COVID-19

November 18, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Carrie C. Wu, MD

The upcoming holiday season is going to look a lot different from years past. Large family gatherings should be exchanged for more intimate settings; experts recommend only celebrating with members of your household, as anything beyond that increases risk of COVID-19. (Household members are anyone you live with, whether you are related to them or not.)

These new constraints may be difficult, but adjusting expectations can help bring peace of mind.

“It’s important we’re able to practice self-compassion, and acknowledge this year isn’t going to be perfect,” says Carrie Wu, MD, a psychiatrist in the Psychosocial Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “We’re all doing the best we can, and despite our best efforts, things might not turn out the way we expected or hoped.” 

While this holiday season might be a bit unorthodox, there are ways to still enjoy this time of year while remaining safe.

Incorporate tradition

Traditions are an important part of the holidays; they unite family and friends, help build a sense of belonging, and are often the source of countless memories. Keeping up with yearly traditions (even if they have to be done virtually) can help capture these experiences.

For example, does the family usually play games after dinner? Set up a video call to play a board game together or one that can be done over the internet. You can also schedule a toast, stream while you’re cooking, or even keep the call going during the entire meal.

Another option is to set up a video call for the whole day (for example, Zoom is lifting their 40-minute restriction for all free accounts on Thanksgiving). Doing so may help people feel less pressure when they’re on and allows them to come and go based on their availability.

Video conferencing alternatives 

While video conferencing has proven to be a valuable tool, many have been experiencing video fatigue. If you’re looking for something different, try mailing someone food, flowers, or a gift, and have them call you once they received it. Opening items together over the phone (or video) is another great way to stay connected.

If a loved one is unable to travel, consider traveling to them but staying outside so that you are maintaining a safe distance. During your visit, you could drop off a gift, talk to your loved one over the phone, or enjoy a meal together while you stay outside, weather permitting. Even if you’re unable to be in the same room, your presence can help them feel connected and lift their mood.

Plan small and remain flexible

Again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends celebrating the holidays only with members of your household in order to stay as safe as possible.

For those who must gather beyond their household for a holiday meal, the CDC recommends doing the following:

  • Wear a mask
  • Maintain physical distancing (6 feet)
  • Avoid the area where food is being prepared
  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils

Remember, celebrating with people beyond your household increases your risk of developing COVID-19, so it is not generally advised. The CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. Instead, the size of the gathering should be determined on the ability of everyone to stay at least six feet apart and practice safety protocols.

While the holidays have typically been a time to enjoy a meal together, consider a safe alternative instead. Organizing a walk or hike is a great way to safely see people, and if you are meeting for a meal, consider an outdoor picnic (weather permitting) rather than gathering in someone’s home.

Find your community

Finding a community with which you can connect and share experiences is a great way to help make the holidays feel more normal. While many community events have been canceled this year, some may have been moved to a virtual setting. Check your local city/town website, as well as social media, to discover what is still taking place online.

If you’d like to do something more personal, suggest swapping recipes, entrees, or a dessert with a friend or family member. Once you both have your item, try opening/enjoying them together during a video or phone call. This can be a great way to build and foster a sense of community.

It is also important to extend a virtual invitation to those who might be feeling isolated, including the elderly, co-workers, friends, or colleagues who can’t go home for the holidays.

If you yourself are feeling isolated, depressed, or alone this holiday season, know there are people you can talk to. The holidays bring forth a lot of emotions, and it can be helpful to speak with a licensed professional if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Travel

Much like the holidays themselves, travel is going to look a lot different this year. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and other from the virus.

If you must travel, be sure to:

  • Wear a mask when in public settings
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Wash your hands often
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

It is also recommended to check your destination’s number of COVID-19 cases. Going to a state or country with a high case total increases your risk.

In addition to following all CDC guidelines, you should also be aware of all state and local restrictions for both where you live, as well as where you’re traveling to. Some states may require you to quarantine or produce a negative test when you arrive or return.

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