Volunteers hand out Thanksgiving turkeys to Los Angeles students in need. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Kim Eisenberg

Like most events, activities and celebrations this year, the 2020 holidays are likely to be far different than your past Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa celebrations. Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic — severely limiting our ability to gather, and negatively affecting the health and finances of many — but COVID-19 infections continue to grow and the flu season is soon to take off.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country is experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections. Small, household gatherings are being named as one of the primary causes, and experts warn the increase in cases will continue as temperatures drop, people spend more time indoors and the holiday season approaches.

This leaves many wondering whether there’s a way to make the holidays celebratory or if we will have to settle for merely simple, even solitary. However, while this can be a fearful, lonely and trying time for us all, the best thing we can do is not resist the reality of the situation.

Instead, we should focus on accepting it, even if it is painful and disappointing, and sit with the uncomfortable and potentially distressing thoughts and feelings. Once we’re able to do that, then we can simultaneously start to look at the ways we can still find meaning, purpose, joy and connection.

Creating Meaningful Experiences

Now is the time to start thinking about what might actually be realistic ways to have meaningful experiences this year, even though they’re likely going to be completely different from anything previously experienced. Whether that’s scheduling a Zoom family call or volunteering, it’s about working within the constraints of the situation.

We are lifted up and out of our own pain and suffering when we do things that are helpful to others. So, even if you’re physically isolated, that might look like volunteering to teach a class or host a group online. If you are politically active, it might be engaging in letter writing or phone banking. Look for ways to reach out to others and support causes and communities that you care about to provide some offset to the loneliness and isolation.

If your family is considering in-person holiday celebrations, it is important to recognize there are different ways people are managing pandemic life. And the more you can keep that in mind and approach family members from a place of empathy and compassion, the better you all will be.

Understanding the Risks and Following Precautions

In general, the more people from different households at a gathering, the closer the physical interactions are, and the longer the interactions last, the greater the risk that someone who has COVID-19 — with or without symptoms — may spread it to others.

If your family does decide to celebrate together, the CDC offers several tips for hosting and attending holiday gatherings with a few key recommendations:

  • Host or attend outdoor (rather than indoor) activities.
  • Limit the size of gatherings — check local guidance about the number of households allowed to gather.
  • Encourage all in attendance to practice safety precautions — wear face coverings, maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from people you don’t live with, and wash hands or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol often — both during the gathering and in the 14 days prior to gathering.
  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging and other close contact.
  • Refrain from singing, loud talking or shouting.
  • Avoid potluck-style gatherings and instead encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks for members of their household.

The CDC also recommends that people who are at high-risk of severe COVID-19 or flu illness, such as older adults or those with medical conditions, should not attend any in-person holiday celebrations. The same advice also applies to people who live with or spend time with high-risk individuals and people who feel sick; have been diagnosed with or are showing symptoms of COVID-19; or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Making Future Plans Can Make Everyone Feel Better

The reality is that the world is never going to go back to exactly how it was for us pre-pandemic. However, it is going to continue to get better and we will continue to adapt and be resilient together. We can allow ourselves to feel hope about the future, look forward to more relaxed times, and start to plan for future holidays, trips, and the tangible milestones and goalposts we want to reach.

Kim Eisenberg is a licensed clinical social worker and the lead therapist of the Sharp Mesa Vista Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Recovery Program.