Updated December, 2021
As you probably know, the number of COVID cases is increasing rapidly across the country. As of early December, our local area has three times the number of new cases per day than it did at this time last year. Many people are wondering – again – how to gather safely this year, and many of us are frustrated that the pandemic is still affecting our ability to see loved ones. We have updated the ideas we gathered last year for making the most of the holidays.
Given the recommendations not to travel or combine households, what CAN we do?
THE BASICS – HOLIDAYS DURING COVID SAFETY TIPS:
– Updated Guidance from the CDC on Small and Large Gatherings in 2021 has safety tips; steps you can take to protect yourself and others; info for Families with Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Members; and more.
– Dear Pandemic has answers to many questions related to holiday gathering, and you can search their posts here.
– Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s 15 minute video has clear, useful tips on reducing risk for gatherings, including rapid antigen tests that you can take at home, ventilation, types of masks, and more.
– Dear Pandemic’s advice and tips on rapid tests before gathering.
Focus on Fun, Connection, and Mental Health (and we saved room for food!)
We talked with local community members, public health experts, mental health professionals, and community organizations about what feels important right now. Like at Thanksgiving, people want connection, fun, and some yummy food. A lot of people are also concerned about mental health during the holidays again this year. Below are ideas and tips we have gathered on these topics.
FUN and Connection
Creating meaning and connection during the holidays can boost our moods and can be a lot of fun too!
– Light Up the Fairgrounds at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield is over for this 2021 – check it out next year if you didn’t have a chance this year.
– Look Park in Florence also has a holiday lights display. It runs until January 2. Free with donations gratefully accepted.
– Forest Park in Springfield also has its annual Bright Nights display up through January 2. Note: $23 per car.
LA Times article with a great variety of suggestions in one user-friendly list.
A great variety of suggestions all in one user-friendly list, including many of the things we would have said anyway. One note: the title says we can make this holiday season “the best ever” – really?! But we still like the article itself.
For many people, volunteering is one of the most fulfilling ways to stay involved in the local community.
– Opportunities Through Organizations. See our post on Volunteer Opportunities for Youth (and Adults). The agencies listed accept youth and adult volunteers.
– Create your own! Is there someone you know who could use help?
A lot of local youth and adults help family members and/or neighbors with snow removal. For people who can, it’s a way to connect, contribute, and get some exercise. Maybe a holiday gift for them could be a note saying you’ll clear the snow for the first three storms of the season! Dropping off meals or groceries can be a big help as well, especially for people concerned about their health as COVID numbers increase.
A Family Photo Contest to Make Quarantine Special – From Connecticut Children’s Hospital, how to create a fun family photo contest. Or skip the competition and just enjoy creating the photos!
Want a fun and easy way to connect virtually with family and friends during the holidays? Try these free options for Christmas Bingo or non-denominational Winter Bingo.
Some In-Person Games Can Go Virtual
Some classic games go transfer easily to a virtual platform. Many families are having great success and a lot of fun with Charades over Zoom. And for families that celebrate Hanukkah or just like to play, Dreidel is a fun and easy game, as long as each household has a dreidel. You can play Pictionary virtually with this random word generator (it has rules for the game too), without each household having the board game.
Want more ideas? Mental Floss offers ideas for 9 Classic Board Games You Can Play Online
There are about a gazillion holiday recipes out there. Here are a few!
Potato Latkes – Recipe and video from popular food blog and local video Bubbe Makes Latkes with Rabbi Andrea from Temple Israel in Greenfield.
Gingerbread House Recipe, Tips, and Template for Beginners
Winter Solstice (or just good for winter) Recipes
Allrecipes.com’s Top 20 Most Cherished Christmas Cookies
Fun Video: 10 Cookie Shaping Hacks to Impress All the Cookie Lovers. Even if you are not planning to make cookies, this creative video is fun for any time of year.
Back by popular demand and updated for winter holidays! Below you will find a lot of the same food sharing tips from our Thanksgiving post! Keep scrolling for more info below.
How to share food without sitting together indoors
…With Nearby Neighbors, Friends, and Family
- Set up a holiday dessert station at end of driveway, with individually packaged pieces of pie, cookies, etc.
- Drop off perishable items the day before or on the day of the holiday you are celebrating. Frozen pies and other frozen foods can be dropped off in advance.
- Drop off baked goods or other less perishable items to each household a few days before.
- If the weather is good enough or you are a hardy group, share a hot beverage or dish outside with plenty of space between each household.
Need “To Go” Containers?
Inexpensive, eco-friendly “to go” containers are available online, including here.
…With family or friends who are farther away
- Send baked goods or other less perishable items to each household a few days before.
- Share a recipe ahead of time and make the same dish. Share photos or video of the way each household’s dish came out.
A few tips from professionals and people who have personal experience with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
As a working parent, I’m already at my limit on stress–how am I supposed to manage holiday stress too?? Help me! – A Dear Pandemic post that attempts to answer a question that many of us have right now. Check out the comments from readers for ideas from other parents and caregivers!
Acknowledge your feelings. The holidays create a lot of expectations of happiness, and that can make it extra hard if you are not feeling the “holiday spirit.” It’s absolutely normal and healthy to feel sad, disappointed, frustrated, lonely, and a lot of other things, especially this year.
Find a healthy way to let your feelings out. It’s OK to cry and let your feelings out naturally. Sometimes expressing feelings helps to release them. Deep breathing while feeling the emotions, writing down the feelings, or talking with someone you trust, or calling a hotline (see resources below) can all help. Listening to sad music or watching a sad movie can feel good to some people who are feeling alone in sadness.
Move your body. Walking, running, dancing, or other exercise can make a big difference in mental health as well as physical health. There are a lot of options for free online yoga, dance, and exercise classes. on YouTube (and other places too).
Be as kind to yourself as possible. If you are feeling crummy, there is a reason. If you have an easier time having compassion for friends or strangers, imagine what you would say to someone else feeling the way you do.
Try volunteering. We also mention volunteering above under Connection. For a lot of us, giving to others can help us to feel better. If you are worried about feeling lonely, bored, or down and have some energy to give others, volunteering can help. See the section on Volunteer opportunities in our page on winter activities for Youth. The agencies listed accept youth and adult volunteers.
Reach out. Seek help or offer these resources to others if you think it might help. You don’t have to be sure you need it. You can give it a try and see how it feels. Find local and national mental health and support resources here, including some places that are open 24/7.
How to talk to loved ones when you’re worried about their mental health
This article, with an accompanying 3 minute video, has concrete tips for noticing when loved ones are having a hard time and how to support them. It’s part of The Washington Post’s free COVID coverage and includes links to related content, including Could therapy ease your coronavirus stress? How to decide, what to expect and where to find it as well as mental health resources.
Covid means Thanksgiving and Christmas will be a bummer. Don’t make it worse by urging joy. This mental health-focused article from NBC reminds us that it can help to acknowledge that it’s hard being apart from loved ones and offers tips for coping. While we think there are ways for many of us to create joy and connection this season, the reminder to be present with feelings – our own and others’ – is key for supporting mental health. (The video excerpt on the page focuses on other aspects of Thanksgiving and may change, so we can’t specifically recommend it.)
Check out and share our Tips for Reducing Stress and Boosting Happiness post, which includes science-based ways to boost natural happiness chemicals in our brains.
Last but not least…Find Ways to Laugh. It may seem counter-intuitive or even impossible if you’re feeling down, but laughter can help (as long as you also give yourself permission to feel sad). You probably know what types of comedy you like. Maybe it’s time to watch an old favorite. Who in your life makes you laugh? Can you both make time to talk on the phone or a video chat? And there’s always YouTube! Sure, there are lots of funny cat videos. Maybe it’s time to try silly hamsters. Ever tried laughter yoga? It can seem super goofy, but if this video gets you laughing, great!