Creating New Holiday Traditions in the Season of Giving

Grandpa giving presents to granddaughter
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With COVID-19 concerns, you’re probably thinking about how to adapt your holiday traditions — whether it was hosting dinner for all the cousins, attending church or decorating cookies with friends. The good news is, you can still celebrate this season, and we’re here to help guide you in how to do so, safely.

Acknowledge the New Normal

The way the virus transmits doesn’t change because we’re in holiday mode. In fact, the holidays may make us less cautious if we let our guard down. Be vigilant in keeping yourself and your family safe by:

  • Avoiding close contact and staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone outside your household
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily (doorknobs, light switches, counters, phones, bathrooms, etc.)
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and washing your hands immediately
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a face mask when you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your household
  • Staying home if you feel sick and avoiding people who are sick or have been exposed to the virus
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water or sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol

Make Sure You’re Protected From the Flu

In addition, be sure you get a flu shot. Getting the current flu vaccine is the safest, single most effective way to protect against the flu. Avoiding the flu this season is especially important because the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms and you can get both at the same time.

Come Together to Make a Plan

It’s a good idea to start talking early with friends and family about how to approach the holidays this year. You’ve likely spent months figuring out your comfort zone, but your loved ones may have different ideas about how to follow pandemic precautions.

For example, if you want to gather with people outside your household, you might ask yourself these questions:

  • Will you always wear masks?
  • Will you form local “quarantine pods” or “bubbles” to keep different groups of friends or family separate?
  • What happens if one person wants to leave the bubble to go shopping, eat at a restaurant or see friends?
  • Would a virtual Christmas be a safer option because a family member or a friend has a serious health issue that puts them at risk for COVID-19?

Whether it’s among family members or friends, having respectful, open discussions rather than buried feelings will make for a smoother holiday.

Host a Virtual Gathering

In the new normal of social distancing, you may decide the kindest thing you can do is avoid getting together with loved ones in person. Being together in spirit instead of being physically present doesn’t mean that you can’t stay connected, though.

For example, you could host a virtual holiday movie night for a favorite, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or you can exchange cookies, decorations for the tree or secret Santa gifts by mail or by dropping them off at the doorstep.

Attend a Church Service

Churches offer joy, hope and encouragement year-round, but Christmas is a traditional time for worship. How churchgoers come together will depend on where you live, with some states limiting the number of people who can gather in person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage services in large, well-ventilated areas or outdoors with social distancing and masks. Many churches are offering virtual sermons, drive-in style services or multiple worship services with limited attendance. If you’re 65 or older or have an underlying health condition, a virtual service is your safest option.

Embrace the Joy of Giving

If you’ve traditionally volunteered to help those in need, check with the organizations you’ve supported to see what you can do now. The pandemic has left many people and nonprofit organizations struggling. There are many ways that you can make a difference.

Call or Text Your Neighbors

Reach out to people who may be elderly, sick or facing challenging circumstances. Lend a sympathetic ear and listen to their stories. Ask if they’re OK and if they need help getting groceries, prescriptions or other items that you can drop off at their door.

Donate Blood

The nation’s blood supply requires a steady supply of donors who generously donate millions of units of potentially lifesaving blood each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you can donate, you can have peace of mind knowing that all blood banks must follow CDC guidelines to keep you safe.

Donate Your Time, Talent or Treasures

Look around in your community for a food drive where you could donate items, pack up donations or hand out food. You could also organize loved ones to collect food and household items or gift cards.

Foster or Adopt a Pet

Many animal shelters have been negatively impacted by the pandemic at the same time that pet owners have lost their jobs or gotten sick. You might consider adopting or fostering an animal, or donating food or supplies if a pet isn’t the right fit for your lifestyle.

Volunteering Your Skills

You could consider volunteering skills such as bookkeeping, sewing, editing or woodworking to help a nonprofit organization. Or, think about your immediate neighborhood’s needs and take action like creating a little free library or picking up litter.

Look for Opportunities

Special Christmas events, like parades or performances, are likely canceled or scaled back significantly this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be festive. Make this the year when you pull out all the stops decorating inside and outside your home, just for the fun of it. You can string up holiday lights and garland, make paper snowflakes for the windows or popcorn garland for your Christmas tree.

Check with neighbors to see if they’re interested in a holiday decorating contest or if you could help elderly neighbors put up outdoor decorations.

Staying Active May Be Easier Than You Think

The pandemic probably means that you’ve been at home — and sitting down — more than usual. Staying active is important, though, in improving both your physical and mental health. The CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week and children get 60 minutes of play per day.

While that may seem like a lot, consider breaking down your exercise into smaller increments over the day. You could, for example:

  • Clean your house, knowing the bending, squatting, stretching and standing all equal exercise
  • Go for a walk at night with your family to look at Christmas lights and sing Christmas carols
  • Start a virtual exercise class

No matter how you choose to exercise, getting your heart pumping will give your body an immune boost and release endorphins that make you feel better.

Appreciate What You Do Have

The upside of the slowdown necessitated by the pandemic is that you have time to reflect on the blessings that you have. You also have a chance now to consider family traditions that may have fallen by the wayside. Think about how your grandparents or great-grandparents celebrated and make some of those traditions your own.

Watch for Emotional Warning Signs

Despite your efforts to create new holiday traditions, remember that it’s OK to lament that things won’t be the same. Watch for signs that stress and anxiety are having physical and emotional consequences in yourself and your loved ones. Warning signs include:

  • Anger or irritability
  • Feeling burned out
  • Lack of motivation
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, pain, stomach problems and rashes
  • Sadness, hopelessness and depression
  • Trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • Worsening of chronic or mental health conditions

When you start to notice these red flags, get proactive about managing your stress by reaching out to loved ones and doing activities that you enjoy. You can also reach out to mental health professionals.

Stay Happy and Healthy This Holiday Season

Despite the pandemic, healthy holiday fun can still be in your plans. Know that we’re always here to support you in body, mind and spirit. Whether you need safe, whole-person care or the latest news and information, we’re with you every step of the way to help navigate the healthiest path forward.

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