How To More Safely Celebrate The Holidays This Year

October 26, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Cristina Cicogna, M.D. contributes to topics such as Infectious Disease.

Updated: 11/12/2020

It might not feel like the holidays to you unless all of your closest relatives are gathered around your dining room table. However, health experts recommend celebrating differently this year as the coronavirus pandemic reaches record levels in many parts of the country.

Traditional holiday celebrations – with everyone kissing hello, enjoying appetizers from shared plates and crowding around the TV to watch the game before a buffet dinner – are likely to encourage the spread of COVID-19.

You can still have meaningful celebrations this year, even if you modify your usual plans. During Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, honor precaution over tradition to keep your loved ones safe, especially if some of your usual guests are older or have underlying health conditions.

How to understand your risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread of the illness.

People who are not currently living in your home, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households.

Here are other factors that the CDC says you should consider if you are planning on gathering with people outside of your household for the holidays:

  • Community levels of COVID-19
  • Exposure during travel
  • Location of gathering
  • Duration of gathering
  • Number and crowding of people at gathering
  • Behaviors of people prior to gathering
  • Behaviors of people during gathering

You should consider all these factors, as well as your own family’s medical history and risk tolerance before committing to any gatherings this holiday season.

Who should not attend holiday gatherings

Do not host or participate in any gatherings if you or anyone in your home:

  • Has tested positive for COVID-19 and has not completed self-isolation.
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19
  • Has taken a COVID-19 test and is awaiting results
  • May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days
  • Is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19

How to safely host a holiday gathering

Keep celebrations small. Limit your guest list to people in your household and your COVID bubble.

If you want to invite other people, see if everyone will agree to self-quarantine at home for 14 days beforehand, to limit the spread of COVID-19. For a quarantine to be most effective, guests should be able to drive to your home without stopping for meals or bathroom breaks. (Flying would negate a quarantine.)

Anyone who is sick, has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test should stay home.

Inviting guests from other households to an indoor meal is a higher-risk activity. To lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 at a gathering with people from different households:

  • keep the guest list short
  • skip hugs, kisses and handshakes
  • have everyone wear masks when they aren’t eating
  • keep people from separate households 6 feet apart
  • keep your windows open to increase air circulation
  • have everyone wash hands often
  • put paper towels near your sinks, so people don’t dry their hands on a shared towel
  • stagger seating to keep separate households 6 feet apart during dinner
  • appoint one person to place food on everyone’s plate, so people don’t touch shared utensils
  • consider using disposable plates, flatware, napkins and tablecloths
  • consider an alcohol-free event, since drinking lowers inhibitions

How to safely attend a holiday gathering

If possible, visit a family within your COVID bubble, or self-quarantine for 14 days before mingling with another household.

If you’re attending an indoor holiday gathering in a home that’s outside of your bubble:

  • avoid greeting anyone with physical contact (hugs, kisses, etc.)
  • wear a mask, except when you’re eating
  • wash your hands often
  • stay 6 feet apart from people in other households at all times, even at mealtime
  • don’t drink alcohol, so that you’ll have the right mindset to make safe decisions about COVID-19

How to enjoy the holidays together when you can’t be together

Deciding to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t mean that you can’t see your loved ones; schedule a video call for the holiday. Try these ideas to make it festive:

  • have everyone place their laptops on the table, so that you can talk while eating a holiday meal
  • share recipes ahead of time, so everyone can eat the same food in different places
  • honor your usual traditions if you can, like having each person say what they’re thankful for
  • connect your laptop to the TV and dine on the couch to get a larger view of everyone

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.