How to talk to your loved ones about celebrating the holidays safely this year

Family members talking to one another virtually

Navigating the holiday season with family and friends can be challenging in a normal year. Add a dangerous pandemic to the mix and things get even more complicated.

It can be hard to know which activities are safe, which should be avoided, and how to talk to your loved ones about making safe choices.

First, let’s break down some traditional Thanksgiving activities.

Having a dinner with members of your household is a low-risk activity, while attending an indoor gathering with people from outside your household (often thought of as a traditional Thanksgiving activity) is very high risk.

As hard as it is to accept, it’s best to skip that traditional Thanksgiving this year, along with the other high-risk activities.

Making the safe choice is fairly straight forward, but how about sharing your decision with your loved ones?

This can be tricky. It may be hard for others to understand why gathering isn’t a safe option this year. We spoke with David Moser, PhD, ABPP, neuropsychologist and professor of psychiatry, about things to keep in mind when having conversations with your loved ones.

Understand the risk

Review this risk matrix so you know what is (and isn’t) safe this year. “Make sure you state the risk to your loved ones,” says Moser. “Let them know that you’re not fear mongering, that you’re relying on the expert guidance.”

Lead with empathy

When explaining to your loved ones that you won’t host or join them in person at a holiday gathering, make sure you convey that you care about them and value their safety. Start by thanking them for the invitation, then politely but firmly explain your plans. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions and how disappointed you are that you can’t gather this year, and trust in yourself that you’re making the right decision.

Moser recommends saying, “Let’s celebrate apart from each other now, so that we can be sure we’re all still together in the future.”

Express your desire to keep your loved ones healthy

Share that you want to keep them safe, and that means staying apart this year, rather than giving the impression that you are worried that you would get COVID-19 from a loved one. Moser says to be sure to avoid any personal attacks and be sure to emphasize that you’re making this decision because you want to keep your loved one safe. If the conversation doesn’t go well, make sure you know when to change the subject or end the discussion.

Provide alternatives

Offer to use technology to connect instead. Using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, or other platforms to connect virtually allows you to still interact while keeping safe. Moser also recommends lending a helping hand to those who may not be tech savvy.

“If your loved one is not yet using these types of communication, try to be generous with your time, resources, and patience in helping them get set up.”

Check out these additional alternatives for celebrating safely

Provide resources

It can be especially challenging to have this conversation with your loved ones if they aren’t taking the same COVID-19 precautions as you. Share facts you can trust that illustrate why you’re making the safe choice. Our COVID-19 toolkit is a great resource to share with others that provides real, scientific information about COVID-19.