We can’t gather, but we can still connect. Here are some inventive ways to keep the season merry and bright.
In the midst of COVID-19 concerns, Monique Dieuvil, M.D., celebrated Thanksgiving with most of her family at the table, talking and laughing like they always do, catching up with relatives who live far apart. She just had significantly fewer dishes to wash afterward.
“We set up the laptop and had an all-family video call, so everyone ate at the same time, wherever they were,” she says. “It felt a little strange at first, but it really did feel like being together before long.”
As a family medicine doctor at Orlando Health Physician Associates, Dr. Dieuvil is well aware of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations, which advise older adults to be particularly cautious as COVID-19 cases have surged upward again. That includes limiting holiday celebrations to only those in your own household.
While that makes this season very different than other years, you can still make your celebrations merry and bright. You just have to be a little more creative. Here are some ideas for staying connected while staying apart.
COVID Holiday Idea #1: Get Cooking—By Zoom
Before their Thanksgiving feast, several members of Dr. Dieuvil’s family did a Zoom call while they were cooking. They chatted about what they were making, shared cooking tips, and laughed over less-than-successful culinary attempts.
“For many people, the kitchen is the heart of the house—it’s where they feel the most comfortable,” Dr. Dieuvil says. “Sometimes, simply being in that room and talking to someone as you cook a special dish can make you feel like you’re there with them.”
COVID Holiday Idea #2: Send Invitations and Ask for RSVPs
If you’re not a fan of video calls or you have relatives who don’t use the technology, you can simply connect through a phone call, says Dr. Dieuvil. She suggests making it more special, though, by setting a specific time. You can even send a digital invite through a site like paperlesspost.com or evite.com.
“Act like it’s a date or an appointment,” she says. “If someone knows you’ll be calling at 4 p.m. to open presents together, for example, that gives them something to look forward to.”
In addition, it provides more structure for the day, adds Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. When you think about your usual gatherings with family and friends, they might seem loosely organized, but they likely follow a certain schedule of events, says Carter. Maintaining that type of structure can go a long way toward preventing a feeling of missing out on your traditions.
COVID Holiday Idea #3: Start a New Tradition
Part of what makes this year so challenging is the feeling of lacking familiar things. We miss our family and friends. We miss favorite dishes. We might even miss the chaos that comes with a house full of guests.
A good way to counteract this feeling is to do something new, suggests Dr. Dieuvil. Begin a new tradition that helps you feel connected but still keeps you safe. For example, you might consider:
- Online games: Everyone plays a game together on a Zoom call, or you can play a one-on-one game like Words With Friends.
- Story time: Call your grandkids at bedtime, and read them a story over the phone or by video call.
- Photo share: Whether you have some recent pics on your phone or old photos stuffed in a box, share one or two with your loved ones.
Traditions don’t need to be expensive or large-scale, says Dr. Dieuvil. They just have to be meaningful. They show that you’re thinking of one another and feeling grateful. And isn’t that the point of the holiday season?
COVID Holiday Idea #4: Consider Virtual Volunteering
Many families like to do some type of volunteer effort during the holiday season, whether that means putting together a coat drive or delivering meals. Just because COVID-19 has limited those opportunities doesn’t mean they’re no longer needed, and fortunately, you can still do good while staying safe. Consider virtual volunteer efforts, such as:
- StoriiTime: Seniors read children’s books to kids.
- Learn to Be: This nonprofit matches students with tutors for math, reading, science, and writing.
- iNaturalist: Participate in scientific research with just a smartphone by taking photos outside and letting researchers use the data from your discoveries.
These are just a few of the many volunteer projects that could use your help. You can find hundreds of potential opportunities at volunteermatch.org, which matches people to volunteer needs.
COVID Holiday Idea #5: Join an Online Class
Simply scheduling time to exercise is a form of self-care, but it can be even more potent when you add a social component, especially with friends.
“Psychologically, there’s just something nourishing about feeling like you’re part of a community,” says Carter. Even if you’re alone, following along with an instructor who can’t see you, knowing that others are doing the same routine often gives people a different feeling than a recorded class would, she suggests.
“It makes you feel part of a group, and that’s very motivating,” she says. “Plus, exercise is a big mood lifter, and if you’re feeling down about not being with friends and family, being more active can be a big help.”
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