How to talk to your loved ones about celebrating the winter holidays safely

Snow falling on some pinecones and a wooden deck with holiday lights in the background

It’s the holiday season, and although we’ve made many strides in understanding and reducing the effects of COVID-19, it’s still prevalent in our community.

As you probably know, this can make celebrating the holidays pretty tricky—and make communicating how to celebrate safely to family members even trickier.

First, let’s break down some traditional holiday activities

Having dinner with members of your household is a low-risk activity, while going to indoor activities with people outside of your household is still considered high-risk.

Your risk is lowered for all activities when you’re vaccinated against COVID-19 and wearing a mask indoors.

Feel empowered to stick with safety

It’s still safest to have dinner with members of just your household. But if you plan to invite extended family or friends to a holiday dinner this year, discussing vaccination status can be difficult, even uncomfortable.

David Moser, PhD, ABPP, neuropsychologist and professor of psychiatry, says you should feel empowered to have conversations about safety and trust in yourself that you’re making the right decision for you and your family.

Share that you want to keep your loved ones safe, and that might mean requiring guests to be vaccinated or suggesting an alternative outdoor activity this year. Moser says to lead these conversations with empathy and curiosity.

“I wouldn’t set it up like there’s going to be a debate that will have a winner and a loser. I think it’s important to go into the conversation as a collaboration—as a cooperative endeavor—to try to find a solution where both people are going to come out of it feeling OK,” he says.

I wouldn’t set it up like there’s going to be a debate that will have a winner and a loser. I think it’s important to go into the conversation as a collaboration—as a cooperative endeavor—to try to find a solution where both people are going to come out of it feeling OK.

Stick to the data

A great way to keep these conversations from becoming adversarial: Stick to the data and try to avoid opinion and politics, Moser says.

“I might say things like, ‘The recent numbers in Iowa are really on the rise and therefore we’re going to ask if our guests have been vaccinated or had a recent negative test. We’re doing this because the data suggest that vaccines help protect us from severe disease.’”

It’s also important to discuss COVID-19 trends in the places your guests are coming from, if they are coming from a place with high COVID-19 case counts, it may be riskier.

Read the room

You may already know which family members or friends have been taking COVID-19 precautions, and which ones have not. It’s OK to be choosy about who you invite.

“It’s important to be inclusive, of course, but sometimes that means engaging with people in alternative activities that are going to be more workable as you interact with family members who may be practicing fewer COVID precautions than you are,” Moser says.

For your own mental health and for the enjoyment of everyone else, it’s OK to choose when to interact with a particular person, he adds.

Use this assessment tool from the Georgia Institute of Technology to view COVID-19 risk levels at larger gatherings based on the county in which you’re located.

Provide resources

It can be especially challenging to have this conversation with your loved ones if they aren’t taking the same safety precautions as you. Share facts you can trust that illustrate why you’re making the safe choice.