It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected countless planned events and gatherings, none more than the holiday season. Having to significantly alter our lives since early spring, many of us hoped that we could flatten the curve and slow the spread enough to reunite with our families for some classic Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Our hearts were collectively broken when we came to realize that the state of this pandemic hadn’t improved; in fact, more people are in the hospital with the virus than ever before, and the U.S. reported over one million new cases in the last week.
With the change in seasons and, for many, the drop in temperatures that comes with it, the option to gather outside with friends and family is no longer available. Despite health experts’ warning about the continued risk of spreading the virus at family gatherings, many of us feel conflicted: we know the risk, but we desperately want to see our families and loved ones. This conflict is further exacerbated by the holiday season, when family gatherings and celebrations are a defining feature of the time.
We want to stay safe, but we long for the comfort and connections that accompany this time of year.
A Very COVID Holiday: Opportunities for New Traditions
Though celebrations might look a little different this year, the holidays aren’t cancelled; on the contrary, the toll that this pandemic has taken on us means we’re exhausted and want some kind of break. Now more than ever, we’re craving a sense of normalcy, tradition, and predictability. But the desire to keep ourselves, friends, and family safe this holiday season necessitates some creativity. In that, many are looking for guidance.
Shift your focus.
While it’s easy to ruminate on what will be different, try to focus on what you can do. Shifting your focus to what you can control or even traditions you can continue to do increases feelings of autonomy and efficacy, something many feel they’re lacking during this time.
When in doubt, use a tried-and-true Zoom gathering.
With virtual platforms like Zoom more popular than ever, connecting with family near and far is as easy as clicking a link. Though it never feels quite the same as spending time in person, virtual gatherings ensure you can still share a meal with your loved ones and get the most important updates about how things are going with your loved ones.
Try creating new holiday traditions.
For example, put together care packages to send your loved ones. You could even include homemade treats (assuming they’ll travel well) and a hand-written letter sharing what you’ll be doing this holiday season and how you’ll be thinking of them. If your loved ones are close enough, drop the care package off at their house, making sure to keep the transfer contactless.
Host a virtual baking competition.
The holidays are the perfect time to try out new dessert recipes, and why not pretend like your family is on The Great British Baking Show? Set up a FaceTime or Zoom meeting and watch all your family members bake their delicious treats. Have everyone present their creation to the camera, and you can even vote on a winner. In lieu of an in-person tasting, share your recipes with your loved ones so they have a chance to make your winning dessert.
Document your different holidays.
Take lots of pictures and videos of your new traditions. One day, you and your family will be able to safely gather again. That will be the perfect time to reminisce on all the creative ways you were able to celebrate together. You can even document future holidays, showing how some traditions created during the pandemic have stuck. Continuing these traditions will bond your family and loved ones in a way unlike ever before.
It’s Still Okay to Grieve
Of course, it’s perfectly okay to still feel sad about what could have been. Suggestions for new ways to celebrate the holidays this year are by no means meant to force others to smile through the pain. The mental health impacts of this pandemic are indisputable, and grieving the loss of planned events and traditions, as well as trying to cope with the uncertainty of it all, is completely reasonable. While planning new ways to celebrate the holidays, take some time for introspection.
Recognize and name what you’re feeling.
Identifying your emotions is a big part of understanding and coping with them. It may be tempting to push down your sadness in favor of a brave face, but this only increases the likelihood that it will hurt more in the long run. Instead, take some time to figure out how you’re feeling, whether that be by journaling, talking to a friend or close confidant, or spending some time alone with your thoughts in a nonjudgmental way.
Acknowledge what you have lost.
With many feeling helpless, it’s alright to recognize that we’ve lost a sense of normalcy and autonomy. Again, while it’s tempting to push it down and move forward, it’s normal and healthy to sit with that sense of grief and loss.
Sharing what you’re thankful for is a huge part of the holiday season and it’s understandable if you feel there’s not much to say right now. Try to make a conscious effort to identify things you’re grateful for. This might include something as big as the health of you and your loved ones, or something as small as getting to watch your favorite show on Netflix.
If it feels like too much, reach out for help.
We often think we’re the only people struggling by convincing ourselves that everyone else is fine. Talking about how you’re feeling during this time can be helpful to normalize the stress of this pandemic and learn to cope with it.
Pure Health Center is here to help with a variety of services, including individual counseling. With a variety of specialties and access to telehealth appointments, Pure Health Center can help you work through your thoughts and feelings about this holiday season.