Safely celebrating the holidays

By Dr. Bryan Alsip

For many people, the winter holidays are a time of joy, celebration and connection with loved ones. However, this holiday season is going to look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With concerns over traveling and gathering in large groups, many have had to forgo their usual holiday plans in lieu of a safer way to celebrate. Gathering with family and friends who do not live with you increases the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Making the hard decision to stay home now may mean you can spend many more years with your loved ones.

Celebrate the holidays at home with your family

“The safest way to enjoy Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with just the people in your household,” says Dr. Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer at University Health.

  • Consider hosting a virtual dinner via Zoom, Skype or any other video conferencing tool.
  • Schedule a time for everyone to share their meal together. Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing or other dishes they prepared. 
  • Spice up your holiday dinner by playing a game, toasting with a signature cocktail and sharing what you are most thankful for. 
  • Shop the Black Friday sales from the comfort of your own home. Many retailers are moving their sales online to avoid large crowds gathering in their stores. Some retailers have even started their sales early due to the pandemic. Get your holiday shopping done while staying safe and healthy.

Check out the hashtag #ZoomNowHugLater on social media for more ideas on how to celebrate from home. “Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently exercising measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread,” says Dr. Alsip.

You can also watch TV and play games with the people in your household. Cozy up on the couch to catch the Thanksgiving Day parades, sports games and your favorite holiday movies at home. Break out the board games or puzzles to bring out the competitive side in everyone. Holidays are a time of elevated stress for many people. Appreciate the relaxation that comes with a simpler celebration.

Do what’s best for you and your loved ones

While there might be pressure from others to gather with loved ones outside your home, you have to do what is best to keep you and your family healthy. In addition to only celebrating with those in your household, this may include:

  • Eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep
  • Taking care of your body and staying active

These steps can lower stress and anxiety levels, lessen fatigue and fight sadness during the holiday season.

For some, the holidays are a way to relieve stress by being with those you love. For others, the holidays are a source of stress and anxiety. Whichever category you fall into, this is bound to be a more stressful holiday season than usual. Being away from family and friends this holiday season can be hard, but remember, the decision to stay home and avoid gatherings will help us all curb the spread of COVID-19.

Coping with holiday stress

There's no avoiding the fact that holidays cause many people stress. The inability to gather with family may increase that stress for some this year. Consider ways to relieve stress while staying home such as mediation apps. These resources can assist in coping with stress related to the holidays:

“Listen to your family and your colleagues. Be mindful of yourself. Watch carefully for the onset of exhaustion, emotional swings or stress. Help support each other as we navigate this holiday season,” says Dr. Alsip.


If you do decide to host a gathering, exercise caution.

While it might seem that smaller, in-person gatherings are the answer to celebrating the holidays safely, the Centers for Disease Control warn that these are actually a major contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases. In-person gatherings that bring together family and/or friends from different households risk spreading COVID-19. There are also factors to consider when hosting people from outside your household such as what their community COVID-19 levels are, exposure during travel, behaviors of the individuals prior to and during the gathering and the location of the gathering. 

Hosting a gathering is not recommended due to the increase in cases of COVID-19. If you do decide to host a gathering, understand that you are putting yourself and others at risk. Should you decide to host a gathering anyway, please remember to practice the following: 

  • Remind guests to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  • Host your gathering outdoors.
  • Wear a mask at all times except when eating.
  • Keep people from different households separated by at least six feet during meal time.
  • Clean your hands often and set up hand sanitizer stations.
  • Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks to limit the number of people handling or serving food. Use single-use options to minimize contact with food.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces often. 

The more of these prevention measures that you put in place, the better. However, these safeguards are not guaranteed to completely prevent the spread of COVID-19 should you choose to host a gathering. Understand that there is an inherent risk to hosting a gathering and you or a family member could still get sick. 

Staying safe and following the guidance of public health officials will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 through the winter. But remember physically distant doesn’t have to mean isolated. Keep in touch with family and friends as you transition your traditions and celebrations via Zoom and FaceTime calls.

Everyone will stay healthier, and there will be more leftovers for you.

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