For many people, holidays signal chances to have special time with family members and friends. But what can we do when we’re restricted by the pandemic from gathering together for Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanza?

“Although physical distancing is required for our health and safety, that does not mean we have to be socially removed from those we care about,” says Virginia Tech expert Rosemary Blieszner. “Keeping in touch with loved ones is important for our mental health and happiness.”

Blieszner says that showing affection and feeling that someone cares about you is essential for physical health as well. Research shows that people who are socially involved have a reduced risk of illness and a greater likelihood of living longer.

Here are some ideas for kindling that warm, close feeling during the holidays – and all year round, pandemic or not.

  • Video calls or phone calls with family and friends for catching up, storytelling, poetry reading, drumming, or singing. Have those on the call each give a reason they feel grateful or tell what they remember and appreciate about ancestors.
  • Quick emails or text messages to let someone special know you are thinking of them.
  • Make and mail a simple card with a holiday greeting.
  • Start a round-robin newsy letter, recipe exchange, or photo album. Invite family or friends to add their part and pass it on through the mail.
  • Using email, each person adds a line to a poem that someone starts, builds a story paragraph by paragraph, or draws a new panel in a collective cartoon. Then send it on to the next person on the list.
  • Hold porch or driveway catch-up conversations.
  • Try old-fashioned Christmas caroling – on the front sidewalk, at the end of the apartment building hallway, or on a video call.
  • Let local family and friends know that you’ll be doing drive-by greetings on a certain day and time so they can come outside. Give them a wave as you pass by.
  • Visit with someone special through the window or storm door.
  • Find an on-line travelogue, museum tour, or inspiring musical piece. Encourage others to watch or listen, then talk about it on the phone or a video call.
  • Create a virtual book club. Invite family or friends to read the same good book with you, then talk about it on the phone or a video call.

If you are healthy, have no symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been around anyone who has symptoms or a diagnosis of COVID-19, and think it might be safe to visit with loved ones in person, here are some important tips:

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Always follow local health and safety guidelines concerning gatherings and avoid traveling to places with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
  • Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth to keep everyone around you safe, and make sure others are wearing masks as well.
  • Create a small social bubble or pod – people who are practicing all the guidelines related to wearing a face covering, washing hands often, avoiding crowds, and committing to being together in person only with other members of the pod. Celebrate holidays only with those in your social bubble.
  • The CDC points out that in general, the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • Visit outdoors or make sure indoor spaces are well ventilated with open windows or doors. Those from the same household can sit together, but the space should be large enough to make sure those from different households are keeping at least 6 feet apart.
  • Avoid buffet-style eating. Have one person serve everyone else to avoid many people handling the same items.
  • While celebrating together, ask everyone to take a break from phones and social media – be really present and in the moment with each other.

About Blieszner
Rosemary Blieszner is Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science and Senior Fellow in the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. She has taught courses in adulthood and aging and conducts research on families, friends, caregiving, and resilience. She is co-chairing the Steering Committee for the university’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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