Gayle King, notable CBS broadcast journalist, made headlines herself this past summer when she announced that unvaccinated family and friends would not be invited to her annual Thanksgiving dinner. When that news broke, some viewers did not digest it well. To them, the announcement did not exemplify the holiday spirit. Yet, these days, the meaning of holiday spirit is evolving as quickly—and in stride with—the mutation of the delta variant of COVID-19. The truth is, it is stressful to figure out who will eat together and who will have to take their meal to go (let alone who will even be invited). It is challenging enough to decide who will sit next to awkward Cousin Eddie, but now we are also faced with deciding whether guests will be carded for proof of vaccination.
After being quarantined in our homes for the holidays last year, most of us are ready to throw caution to the wind, break out the fancy dinnerware and congregate with loved ones, toting a “the more the merrier” mentality. But pause for a moment and think about it. You may not share King’s sentiment, but it is a good idea to check your guest list twice because it is not just about who’s been naughty or who’s been nice. The most important thing to remember this year is that we are still in a pandemic. Instead of ignoring that reality, get creative about how to safely host for the holidays while only spreading joy and not germs.
It’s the Thought That Counts
Regardless of their vaccination status, everyone can contract COVID. The vaccine does not prevent anyone from getting it or passing it to others. So why are those who are unvaccinated getting the coal-in-your-stocking side-eye? Because the vaccine does lower the chance of becoming severely sick, needing to be placed on a ventilator, possibly dying, and pushing the world back to square one because of more easily transmittable and lethal forms of the virus.
With that being said, celebrating with family and friends is a tradition that should not be abandoned. We need these special moments now more than ever. But at the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, things will have to be different again this year. However, different doesn’t have to be bad.
In settings where there is potential for mixed vaccination statuses and varying strength of immune systems, show goodwill by donning a mask. Keep in mind the needs of the vaccinated elderly, who may require a booster sooner than later; the littles ones who are too young to receive the vaccine, and those with immune-compromising health conditions such as cancer or diabetes and breathing problems like asthma.
Essential Party Planning
Even with the most well-thought-out plans, you must acknowledge there can be serious consequences to gathering for the holidays. So keep the following in mind when finalizing plans.
Good things can come in small packages. Being selective and downsizing how many people you invite to your home may be unpleasant. However, remember that it won’t always be this way. Until things do change, be creative with your season’s greetings. How? Instead of hosting one big event, think about a couple of smaller ones. Or, choose a venue that allows for healthy distancing (six feet or two arm’s length between guests).
Another option? Have two hosts. True, everyone will not be in the same place but there are some pros, like it can contain those Cousin Eddies. And in lieu of the traditional turkey carving, there’s always a virtual option. Pass along two recipes. Allow folks to shop and complete the prep work ahead of time. Arrange a family cooking hour on Zoom to prepare the dishes together. While the house hopefully starts to smell like Thanksgiving, each person can give a life update or share things they’re thankful for.
Good ventilation and circulation are the best ways to fill the air with the holiday spirit. So, open the windows, and…yes, invite fewer guests. Another way to enjoy the day safely that can help others include choosing a day to donate—as a family or friend group—to a local food pantry, shelter or nursing home. Afterward, gather at an apple or pumpkin farm for a tasty snack and to express words of appreciation (be brief; there’s always a long-winded one in every family).
Since it likely isn’t the safest bet for everyone to be at one home for the holidays, deliver a token of love to each home, like a gratitude box. Each family or friend contributes a meaningful item (seasonings, tea, a pie, a candle, a small centerpiece) and a personal thank-you note for each box.
Designate a couple of artsy people to assemble them (presentation may not be everything, but it counts). A basket or painted wrapped box would work. From there, select a drop-off and pick-up day. Even if you’re celebrating apart, you can still experience the warmth of each other’s kindness through the fun of putting together and gifting gratitude boxes!
Another option is to ditch the ugly sweater and make masks a part of the festivities by hosting an ugly mask party! Give prizes to families who have the best holiday masks. Order theme masks for everyone who’s coming to your home and share with others by posting selfies. It will seem fun rather than restrictive. But the rule still applies, that unless everyone has been vaccinated, while inside, cover the mouth and nose.
If that won’t do, venture outside for some fa la la la laaaaas. Bonding outdoors is better than indoors when it comes to COVID-19 and will not necessarily require revising the guest list (which could keep peace on earth).
Arrange for caroling and hot chocolate. Deck the outdoors, instead of your halls, with holiday lights. Get the neighbors involved and have each household schedule a time to put up decorations and offer a curbside treat. If that sounds like too much work, plan to attend a holiday light show (in individual cars, but at the same time) and exchange gifts. And don’t forget these outdoor oldies but goodies: sledding and roasting marshmallows.
Any of these can be a holly, jolly time. The common thread is the great outdoors.
And to All a Goodnight
Holiday celebrations have a way of going on and on. Do not make a night of it. This year it is best to keep it short and sweet to limit possible exposure to the coronavirus. Ask guests to be punctual and wrap it up quickly (tip: set a time for the event to end, not just start). Glad tidings of comfort can be had at each person’s own home.
Things may not look like they have in past years, but you can still enjoy the magic of the holidays with family and friends. You definitely should—just make sure you do it right.
Dr. Bernadette Anderson is a family physician with 20+ years of experience in health and wellness, the founder of Life in Harmony LLC, and author of her upcoming book, “Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness.” Her home base is in Columbus, Ohio, but Dr. Bernadette can also be found online on LinkedIn and Instagram.