8 Creative Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Safely

With a little effort, you can connect with loved ones and friends during the pandemic and have fun too.

family celebrating the holidays safely in front a fireplace
family celebrating the holidays safely in front a fireplace

Although this holiday season will look quite different than in years past due to COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you need to miss out on your favorite holiday traditions. There are plenty of ways to make the holidays festive and celebrate safely with your loved ones.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked people to “consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families, and communities healthy and safe.” Putting in a little extra effort to connect safely and responsibly is necessary.

“With the number of nationwide cases as high as they’ve been in recent weeks, we need to redouble our efforts,” says Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Rochelle Belfer Professor in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We all should protect ourselves and the people around us.”

With that in mind, here are eight creative ways to enjoy holidays that are festive and safe:

1. Trim your tree or light Hanukkah candles virtually.
By now, many of us are accustomed to Zoom and FaceTime, so make a plan to celebrate traditions virtually. It’s a simple way to gather together, but in a safe way. Extend the fun by making it into a craft night and see who can create the best snowy mason jar, paper snowflakes, or popsicle reindeer, making it a festive time for kids and adults alike!

2. Host a holiday baking contest
Food brings people together — and a little friendly competition makes it even more fun. Set up your computer in a corner of your kitchen, pretend you’re on your favorite baking show, and put a new spin on your cookie-making traditions. Baking can be a daylong event. “You still get to spend time with family; you’re just not in the same room with them,” says Dr. Gulick.

3. Watch a socially distanced holiday movie together.
You can enjoy popcorn and a movie together from afar. If the weather is right, consider moving the home theater outdoors — and get extra cozy with plenty of blankets and hot cocoa. Just remember to sit 6 feet apart and wear a mask. “If you’re going to get together, being outside is key to ensure you have good air circulation,” Dr. Gulick says.

Dr. Roy Gulick

Dr. Roy M. Gulick

4. Set up a gift exchange.
Instead of stressing out about buying gifts for every family member, especially after such a difficult year, propose a gift exchange where you draw names and randomly assign a Secret Santa to each participant. Dr. Gulick recommends this distanced approach. “I’ve heard of people leaving their Secret Santa gifts on each other’s doorsteps, then opening them at home,” he says. “There’s no direct contact, but you can still have a lot of fun with it.”

5. Create a holiday music playlist.
With many of us working from home, compiling a festive playlist of your favorite holiday songs can be a fun activity for you and your loved ones. Create a playlist on Spotify or iTunes and share it. It’s a simple and surefire way to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

6. Send gratitude notes to family and friends.
Expressing love and thanks can have a profound impact on your health and well-being. If you can’t be together this December, write gratitude notes and send them to your family, friends, and co-workers. Include a photo of the two of you together. The very act of writing and mailing these notes can improve your mood significantly.

7. Book a virtual Santa visit.
Are your kids disappointed they won’t be able to visit Santa this year? With the help of technology, kids can have their own personal visit with Santa Claus himself. Platforms like JingleRing and Macy’s Santaland at Home make it easy and affordable to book a virtual visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, live from the North Pole.

8. Put a spin on a holiday party.
The CDC says “the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” which means big holiday parties with extended family, friends, and colleagues will be on hold. But there are still ways to spread cheer. If it’s an annual tradition to host a holiday game night, take it online, where you can find virtual versions of everything from traditional board games to escape rooms. And although we might not have a chance to show off our Christmas best, an ugly sweater party could bring some laughs to a virtual gathering.

Safety First: Here’s Who Should Not Attend Any In-Person Gathering This Year

  • People with COVID-19
  • People exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • People with symptoms of COVID-19
  • People awaiting COVID-19 test results
  • People who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • People at an increased risk for severe illness (older adults, people with medical conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, or diabetes)

Roy M. Gulick, M.D., is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Rochelle Belfer Professor in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases, Dr. Gulick conducts clinical research, sees patients with infectious diseases, and teaches medicine. His primary research involves designing, conducting, and analyzing clinical trials to refine strategies for HIV treatment and prevention (and more recently, COVID-19). He currently serves as principal investigator of the Weill Cornell HIV Clinical Trials Unit of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group and the HIV Prevention Trials Network, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

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