When the pandemic hit in late winter 2020, many people thought it would be over by Easter. Then the Fourth of July. Then Labor Day. Now we are facing a winter holiday season with escalating COVID-19 rates throughout the country and in our own communities.
The reality is, the pandemic is not abating any time soon — even with vaccines and improved medical treatments on the horizon. The better news is the outlook for a more normal holiday season 2021 is promising.
We asked some Emerson clinicians for tips to have a healthy holiday season this year — even if it will look very different than normal. Read on for safety recommendations as well as new traditions you can do to bring joy this season.
COVID-19 Holiday Safety Tips
- Consider staying home instead of traveling for the holidays. This may not be the year for traveling to see relatives who are not already part of your household or regular close contacts, particularly if the gathering would bring together relatives who are older or who might otherwise be at increased risk for complications from COVID-19. If you must travel, consider going by car with family members you live with, and make sure you wear a mask and sanitize your hands whenever you use public rest areas, gas stations, etc. Refer to health and government policies when traveling across state lines. These guidelines frequently change so be sure you know the latest guidelines before you go. You can find them on state government websites.
- Celebrate with people you live with. This is the safest, least risky way to celebrate this holiday season. Whenever you have other people join your circle, it invites new opportunities for the virus to spread. Best to play it safe and stick with those you live with.
- Use the three standards: masks, social distance, sanitize hands. If this year’s holiday season can be wrapped up in three phrases, these are the ones to rely on! And here is a fourth for good measure — get a flu shot!
- Entertain outside. Outdoors is much better than inside for safer dining and socializing. It might be a good idea to put heat lamps and a fire pit high on your holiday wish list and have the equipment delivered before the holidays! If you use outdoor heating equipment, be mindful of important safety precautions and make sure any wires are securely fastened to the ground to prevent tripping hazards — especially for young children and seniors. And be extra careful with pets around these items!
Emerson Hospital’s Medical Director of Infectious Diseases and Acton Medical Associates Internal Medicine Physician Scott Paparello, DO, summed it up this way, “2020 has been a very challenging year and will continue to be challenging throughout the winter. If we all do our part and vaccines become available, the outlook for a safer and closer-to-normal 2021 holiday season is encouraging.”
COVID-19 Holiday Celebration Tips
While the safety precautions this season may suggest a rather glum holiday season, here are some things you CAN do to celebrate the holiday season in joyful, meaningful ways.
- Share traditional recipes with family members. While you all won’t be physically in the same place this holiday season, you can still enjoy grandma’s apple pie and your great uncle’s gravy. Have a virtual family meeting to plan your festive meals and swap recipes.
- Get outside and exercise! Some annual turkey trots and jingle bell runs may be hosting virtual races. Take your immediate family out for a long walk or run on Thanksgiving morning. Throw a football around, discover a new nature trail, hit the beach (bundle up if it is cold!), learn to snowshoe. Enjoying nature is one of the best ways to soothe your soul this holiday season.
- Host a neighborhood drive to collect items for a food pantry. Circulate a flyer or an email to neighbors, put a collection bin on your front stoop and drop off the donations at your local pantry. It is best to contact the pantry before starting the drive to find out what the logistics are to donate and if they need anything specific in the way of food, toiletries, baking items, etc.
- Think out-of-the-box for holiday gift giving. Health experts recommend avoiding crowded stores whenever possible. If you must go to a store, go during off-peak times to avoid crowds, and shop local. Consider gift shopping online or call local shops that you want to support and ask if they can mail gifts or gift cards to recipients. Another idea is to virtually gather your closest friends and create a plan to celebrate in person when the pandemic is over. Send a meal or desserts to your friends via their favorite local restaurants or make a donation in a friend's name to their favorite non-profit organization. This is the season to think creatively — often the most meaningful gifts are the most creative ones.
- “Zoomolidays”. Not original, but it can be meaningful to see loved ones gather around their respective tables for the holidays. You can spice up Zoom with fun contests, like “most creative table setting,” “best decorations for the holidays,” or “most delicious looking desserts.”
- Start a virtual secret Santa with your friends, relatives, or colleagues! Holiday gift giving traditions can be virtual. Your annual Yankee swap, secret Santa or white elephant tradition can still be had virtually. Or try this new version of secret Santa with a food twist.
- Identify new hobbies. For many people, the holidays signify the start of the winter season. Everyone’s patience will be tested this winter as we aim to control the spread of COVID-19 with necessary safety precautions. This is a great time to find some new hobbies. Follow your passions. How about trying a new craft or starting a podcast? Consider volunteering remotely for a non-profit you care about. (Check out Emerson’s Auxiliary!) Try a winter sport, discover a new or old book, host a virtual game night with your family or friends, learn a new language….the possibilities are endless.
- Check in on loved ones. Everyone, no matter what they might reveal on their social media posts, is going to have some challenging times ahead. It is not easy to get through a holiday season during a global pandemic. Call your family, friends, neighbors, long-ago acquaintances. If you make one call each week, you will impact many lives this winter season. Watch Emerson’s presentations on loneliness to learn how to help combat this issue.
Another great resource is Emerson’s Health Works Here Podcast episode, “Combating Loneliness: Tips and Resources in the Time of COVID-19”. Listen as Bob Pacl, care management social worker at Emerson Hospital, shares tips and resources for those struggling with loneliness.
Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and wherever podcasts can be heard.
- Know that next year the holidays will be looking brighter!
Special thanks to Scott Paparello, DO, medical director, infectious diseases at Emerson Hospital and internal medicine physician with Acton Medical Associates for providing clinical information for this article. For more health tips about the holidays, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
How are you spending the holiday season? Let us know by sending a note to email@example.com or tag us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @EmersonHospital.