COVID-19 and the holidays: How to celebrate safely and joyfully

By: Abby Gandolfi, M.D.

One thing is for sure about the holidays in 2020: This year will be unlike any in recent memory. While we usually think of big family get-togethers for the holidays, social distancing demands we have only small gatherings this year. While this might seem to take the fun out of the holiday, there are ways to make this year meaningful and joyful, while still protecting ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19.

Practicing gratitude

We’ve been through a lot this year, all of us. While sometimes it might seem hard to find reasons to be thankful, when you stop and think about it, there are always things to be grateful for. What’s interesting is that research shows that practicing the art of gratitude can actually improve our disposition and outlook. Researchers have found that keeping a regular, written record of things we are thankful for makes us happier, while keeping score of what irritates us does the opposite. And delivering a letter of gratitude to someone we appreciate delivers an extra dose of good feelings.

Perhaps this year for Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, encourage your family to take the gratitude challenge. Suggest that each family member write down a sentence each day describing something he or she is thankful for. It can be as simple as enjoying a delicious food one day, or seeing a beautiful flower another day, or receiving an act of kindness from a neighbor. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, write down a sentence describing your gratitude.

On Thanksgiving Day, encourage everyone to share their favorite journal entry at Thanksgiving dinner, either in person or, via Facetime or Zoom. Giving everyone time to prepare in advance eliminates putting people on the spot and catching them off-guard.

As an extra challenge, encourage each family member to write and send a hand-written letter to someone who has done something special for them. Make sure to mail the letter in plenty of time to get to the recipient by Thanksgiving! Hand-written letters are a rarity these days and a precious gift. Even little children can participate; if they can’t write a letter, they can draw a picture.

This can be especially meaningful to our older relatives. How many of us have wished we took the time to thank our parents or grandparents for teaching us a special skill or making a sacrifice for us, only to miss out on that opportunity once that relative has passed on? Take advantage of the “living years’’ and write that note now.

Though we are all anxious to celebrate the upcoming season with family and friends as we are so accustomed to, it is important to remember that we should still be limiting gatherings to only those people we are already in daily physical contact with.

There ways to keep an emphasis on safety for those choosing to attend a family gathering. If there will be guests coming to your home for Thanksgiving dinner or other holiday gatherings, or if you are going to someone else’s home, remember to keep the gathering small and follow these safety precautions:

  • Remind guests to stay home if they are sick. If anyone on the guest list has been exposed to COVID-19 or shown symptoms in the previous 14 days, it’s best for them to sit this one out. Even if all guests are in the clear, you should also encourage guests who are elderly or who have preexisting health conditions to consider the risks before checking “yes” on the RSVP.
  • If possible, consider hosting your event outdoors or in a space that is well-ventilated. If your event must be indoors, try to maintain 6 feet between family groups. It will probably feel like habit to go in for a hug or handshake when your guests arrive but try to remember to greet them in other ways like a wave or verbal welcome
  • Wear masks. By now, we all know that wearing masks helps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Make mask-wearing a requirement for your guests. You can even make it fun by asking them to wear their favorite themed mask for the occasion.
  • Provide ample opportunities for hand hygiene. Consider providing hand sanitizer stations throughout your event and encourage everyone to use them (or wash their hands in the bathroom) regularly.
  • Limit the handling or serving of food. If serving food, designate one person to serve all the food to your guests so that multiple people aren’t handling the same serving utensils. It’s also good to opt for single-use options, like disposable dishware, utensils and even portioned packs of condiments and salad dressings.
  • Avoid high-touch surfaces and items. Regularly disinfect surfaces that multiple people touch, including doorknobs, light switches, garbage can lids and countertops.

While the holidays may feel different this year, you can still make them more meaningful by focusing on the people and things we are most grateful for.

Dr. Abby Gandolfi received her medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Following this, she completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at Louisiana State University Health and Science Center in New Orleans. Dr. Gandolfi has been on staff at Ochsner since 2019. Her expertise is in primary care and internal medicine To book a primary care appointment with Dr. Gandolfi at Ochsner Medical Center – Destrehan, 13100 River Rd., Suite 200, call 985-764-7669.


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