COVID and the Holidays

Updated: Feb 16

If we can make the most of what we have and keep a commitment to staying safe with love in our hearts, then we can not only manage the holidays this year but we may even experience one of the most profoundly meaningful holiday seasons ever.

This upcoming holiday season presents new and unique challenges for all of us as the COVID pandemic continues. This year will require changes in traditions and possibly limited or even canceled holiday gatherings. To manage the holiday season this year with COVID, it's important to understand how to cope with the changes and feelings of loss as well as learn how to navigate the logistics for everyone’s health and well-being. In addition, we can also use this as an opportunity to redefine or even define what is meaningful and sacred during this holiday season. With this kind of planning and insight, not only will we better be able to manage the stress of the holidays but we may even experience true joy and peace.


1. Accept the Reality

The first thing I recommend is to accept that the holidays are going to look different. We don’t have to like it and in fact, most of us will find these changes to be incredibly difficult. However, the more we fight the changes the more upset we become. If we stay stuck fighting the reality of the limits and restrictions of the pandemic then we stay angry, bitter, or disappointed. We may miss the opportunity to experience the joy, love, and gratefulness that is the spirit of the season. If we can accept these changes then we can allow ourselves the opportunity to explore new ways of honoring what is truly important to us during the holidays.


2. Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

The second way to manage the holidays is to permit yourself to grieve these changes. For many of us, the holidays are one of the very few opportunities we have to be with our loved ones and friends in which we are together under joyful circumstances. We may have fond memories of visiting with old friends the night before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving dinner with large, extended families, Christmas morning with the family gathered around the Christmas tree or celebrating New Year's Eve out on the town. For many of us, we are grieving the loss of making those memories this year. These traditions are important rituals and when we unable to do those we feel a sense of loss. We grieve for those traditions because they bring us a sense of comfort, familiarity, and connect us with others. We especially long for them in this time of chaos and uncertainty. but we need to remind ourselves that this is only temporary these are not permanent changes. These traditions will not be lost forever; this pandemic will not last forever and most likely by next winter, we can return to our favorite rituals and holiday traditions.


3. Manage Family Expectations

Perhaps one of the more challenging aspects of managing this holiday season is managing family expectations by setting limits and boundaries. When communicating with your family, it's important to express your decision and needs while not trying to persuade the other person to do something that they're not comfortable doing. If can remember that everyone is feeling a sense of loss then we can draw on our empathy and love for our loved ones so that we can truly hear and understand their pain in this situation. We must remember that each person and family unit must decide under which situations they feel safe and what they comfortable doing knowing the risks involved. If you know that you will not be attending a family gathering that is being hosted by a relative or friend, perhaps the best thing to do would be to communicate with that individual as soon as possible so they can begin to process their feelings of loss and to make any necessary changes to their plans. Focus the conversation on your needs, be clear about where you feel safe, and how you feel safe rather than trying to convince the other of your position.


4. Follow the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Guidelines

The Illinois Department of Public Health has outlined safety guidelines for the upcoming holiday season. They outline guidelines for travel, overnight quests, holiday shopping, and meals. The guidelines are meant to help mitigate the potential exposure and spread of the virus. Some of the guidelines for holiday meals include:

  • To the extent reasonably possible, consider taking advantage of outdoor gatherings as weather permits.

  • Consider single-use disposable utensils and dishware for serving and eating meals.

  • Encourage guests to wear a mask except to eat and to drink. Have an extra supply of masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, and tissues on hand.

  • Encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and for members of their own household only.

  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments.

  • Avoid any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets or buffet-style potlucks, salad bars, and condiment or drink stations

Click here to see the full list of guidelines.

https://www.dph.illinois.gov/sites/default/files/COVID-19_Guidance%20Holidays.pdf


5. Identify What Means Most to You

There is an adage that says, “Bloom where you are planted.” Another one is “Play the cards you are dealt.” What both of these are saying is to do the best with what you have. For this holiday season, use the situation to really emphasize what matters to you. For many, the holidays mean making happy memories, spending quality time with loved ones, sharing what we are grateful for, and expressing our love for others. Each of us can determine what the holidays mean for ourselves and find ways to embody those values in the circumstance we find ourselves in. For example, if you were the one that always cooked a particular dish for Thanksgiving, maybe incorporate other immediate family members in preparing the dish. Teach them your recipe and secrets for making it. You’ll be sharing a traditional dish and making lasting positive memories despite the many losses that have occurred with COVID. By using the situation that is your reality and making that special and sacred you can create a sense of peace and joy.


6. Get Creative

There can be lots of different ways to celebrate the holidays in new and creative ways. Once you’ve accepted that things will need to be different, it opens you up to the new possibilites of making memories and making this time of year special. For example, you could do a version of the Great British Baking Show. Have each of your immediate family members or your kids bake a dessert to be judged. You could award the winner with bragging rights! Another idea would be to do a recipe swap with those you would’ve done a Thanksgiving dinner with. Each family swaps the recipe of a dish and you get to make the dish that you would’ve eaten with them. You could do a virtual Thanksgiving dinner together eating the dishes from the recipes shared.


There is no getting around the fact that the holidays will be different this year and changes will be required. However, you can manage these changes and still honor what is sacred in the holiday. If we can make the most of what we have and keep a commitment to staying safe with love in our hearts, then we can not only manage the holidays this year but we may even experience one of the most profoundly meaningful holiday seasons ever.


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