06 Nov Americans Are Planning a Different Kind of Holiday This Year
My longtime friend Christine grew up in Chicago and most of her large extended family are still firmly rooted in the Midwest. Thanksgiving has always been the time when her family gathered. Much more than Christmas, Thanksgiving has been their time for traditions—the same favorite recipes—no deviation allowed, ever. Annual walks along the shores of Lake Michigan, holiday shopping along the magnificent mile. Long lunches, dinners and conversations. As long as I can remember, she braved long lines, colds and flu, pregnancy, snowstorms and airport closures to be with her family at Thanksgiving.
But this year, her family is putting their traditions on hold
They’ve been frantically emailing and texting for the last few months. Time has taken its toll. Many family members are now in the high-risk group—older, with conditions that make them vulnerable to infection. One nephew has asthma, an uncle recently had a kidney transplant. They’ve considered gathering as usual, but excluding those who are high-risk. But for those who need to fly to the Midwest for the holiday, there is too much resistance. This family will put off their traditional Thanksgiving for the first time in more than 50 years.
Covid cases are on the rise, and each day exceeds the previous day’s record
“I’m not going to tell people not to have a family gathering, because mental health is important, now more than ever,” says epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, PhD, an assistant professor at George Mason University. “But I can’t in good conscience say, ‘Yeah, it’s okay to have a big celebration.’ There is no 100% safe way for two households to get together for the holidays in any area where Covid is circulating, which currently includes the entire United States.”
It’s not just the gatherings, but the getting there
Airplanes have good ventilation and air filtering, but you can’t control who sits near you. If one of those passengers is shedding virus, your risk rises.
If you must go, reduce the risk:
- Move gatherings outdoors, weather permitting.
- Wear masks except when eating.
- Maintain as much physical distance as possible, with six feet as a minimum (more is better).
- Limit time spent with others, especially indoors.
- If you must be inside, open the windows if possible, to increase ventilation, or get an air purifier or upgrade your whole-house air filters to help reduce the concentration of any virus particles. If someone is shedding the coronavirus, it can build up in a poorly ventilated space, and the risk grows with each passing minute.
We’re all feeling increased levels of anxiety
We’re all on edge. The chaos of the campaign and the election. An uncertain economy, the insecurity of our jobs—the added responsibility for schooling our kids. Covid adds another layer of ambiguity and fear.
Experts advise us to start the holiday talks with family now
“If you’re the person who’s ready to walk through the door at Aunt Jen’s house, know that your siblings, cousins, and other family members may not be comfortable joining you. We suffer a lot because we are waiting for things to change, as opposed to accepting what is,” says Karen Dobkins, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at UC San Diego. The holidays will be different this year, and there’s no use crying over the loss. Once you’ve accepted the insanity that is 2020, you’re ready to take the next important step.”
This is the time to make new traditions
Rather than fighting the inevitable change and mourning the loss of your traditional holiday, create a new tradition.
- Think about what you value most about the holiday and replicate it in your own home.
- If Thanksgiving is about food, replicate that meal in your own home. Get the whole family involved in its preparation. Share it via Zoom with your extended family.
- This is the season for giving. So many people have lost their homes and livelihoods in the North Bay fires. Contributing to this or other causes could become your new tradition and a way to introduce your kids to the spirit of sharing.
- Think about family walks, games or bike rides. The possibilities are endless.
Celebrate being together, being grateful for what you have. It’s been a tough year!
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