Here’s How A Doctor Recommends Safely Celebrating The Holidays

During the pandemic, the best way to show love might be to stay distant.

A couple laughs while celebrating the holidays with their laptop on the dinner table. COVID hasn't cancelled the holidays, but it certainly has changed them.
MilosStankovic/E+/Getty Images

Whether you're looking forward to the holidays or would just rather be woken up when 2020 ends, there's no doubt that the season is upon us. You've been trying to explain to your uncle that you cannot have your typical 20-person Thanksgiving, and trying to comfort your dad who thinks the holidays have to be entirely canceled — and they're both asking you for the best middle ground options. Navigating how to safely celebrate the holidays during COVID-19 will take a bit of creativity, but the Zoom skills you've acquired over the past eight months should help.

Can I Safely Travel For The Holidays?

On Nov. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its guidelines about Thanksgiving to caution people against traveling to see people they don't live with. "Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year," the CDC says, referencing the fact that there were over 1 million cases of COVID reported in the U.S. the week before the announcement. Winter isolation can be extra painful, especially if you haven't seen your chosen family since March, but it's important to remember that during the pandemic, the best way to show love might be to stay distant.

"There are travel restrictions enacted for some cities and states that require a two-week quarantine before you are allowed to explore the place you traveled to," says Dr. Sanjeev Jain, M.D., a doctor double-board certified in immunology and internal medicine at Columbia Asthma and Allergy Clinic. "If you are looking for specific guidelines, check out your county’s health department website to see what is allowed in your state when it comes to social gatherings."

The CDC cautions that traveling by air, bus, and train all come with heightened risks of COVID transmission, because you just can't effectively social distance. The CDC also recommends getting tested one to three days before getting on a plane and getting tested again two to five days after. Regardless of mode of transportation, you risk exposing your family to COVID for 14 days after traveling — so if you want to maximize relatively safe traveling, you might need to devote upwards of a month (and a long Airbnb stay) to holiday travel.

How Can You Have A Safe(ish) IRL Holiday Gathering?

The safest way to mark the holidays? "Celebrate only with the members in your household," Dr. Jain tells Bustle. "All social gatherings pose some level of risk when it comes to contracting and transmitting COVID," he says.

If you're confident you're able to adhere to all travel restrictions, know that safety starts the moment you hit the road. "The safest way to travel at this time would be by car, with only members of the same household in the vehicle," Dr. Jain tells Bustle. He advises being extra safe at gas stations; sanitizing, maintaining six feet of distance, and wearing your mask. Dr. Jain also recommends avoiding long road trips that involve overnight crashing.

Even if you're just seeing local people you don't live with, Dr. Jain says it can't just be business as usual if you want to keep everyone safe. "A small outdoor gathering (weather permitting) or a small indoor gathering in a room with good ventilation and fresh air would likely be the safest options," he says. If you're wondering how small is small, many restrictions on gatherings cap attendance at 10 people. Go for a lunch instead of dinner since days are shorter in the winter, and even though it might feel weird with family, you've still got to wear masks and keep those six feet of distance between people from different households.

Communal dishes and utensils are also off the proverbial table to reduce transmission risk, Dr. Jain says. It might be strange to not dig into the same pumpkin pie as everyone else, but COVID safety before sweet tooth satisfaction is the way to go this year.

What Are The Safest Ways To Celebrate The Holidays This Year?

The absolute safest way to celebrate the holidays in 2020 is virtually, especially if you or your family lives in a multi-generational household or if someone is at high risk. Dr. Jain advises that you charge up your laptops and get creative with your plans.

"With a little thinking outside of the box, the possibilities are endless," Dr. Jain tells Bustle. "You can try a recipe exchange of your favorite holiday dishes, pick a new holiday tradition to start, have holiday movie marathons, have baking competitions with the members in your household, exchange cards and letters with your loved ones, have an outdoor holiday decoration competition with your neighbors, or have a virtual cookie decorating competition." If you're missing the holiday cheer you typically get from visiting others IRL, try decking out your out apartment with decorations that you can show off on camera. You might also consider a rousing game of Among Us or another virtual multiplayer game, because family gatherings on the holidays are nothing without hurling wild accusations across the table.

"The holidays can still go on," Dr. Jain says, "just with some little adjustments so that our loved ones stay safe and we can continue to celebrate with them in the future."


Dr. Sanjeev Jain, M.D., doctor double-board certified in immunology and internal medicine, Columbia Asthma and Allergy Clinic