How to Make the Most of a COVID Christmas

By Nancy Caridllo

‘If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are at risk of exposure or have been exposed, have symptoms or are awaiting test results, you should not attend in-person holiday events, period.’

The Christmas holidays will certainly be celebrated differently this year, as we are in the midst of a pandemic and flu season.

But you can still have yourself a merry little Christmas if you listen to the health experts, who stress the key word for this holiday season is “little.”

Large, in-person events pose varying levels of risk for spreading the coronavirus, so the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that before deciding to host or attend any holiday gathering, you assess the level of risk based on the size and location of the event and the availability and use of mitigating strategies.

For example, consider the current rate of infection in the community in which the event will be held. Indoor events pose more risk than outdoor gatherings, and indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose an even greater risk. What is the duration of the event? How many will attend? Will attendees travel from different places? Will there be social distancing? Will the wearing of masks be enforced? Will hand washing/ sanitizing stations be available?

Of course, if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are at risk of exposure or have been exposed, have symptoms or are awaiting test results, you should not attend in-person holiday events, period.

But if you do plan to attend any holiday event — large or small, indoors or outside — be smart and follow these tips from the CDC and the Erie County Department of Health to reduce your risk of being exposed to, contracting or spreading the coronavirus:

• Practice safe social distancing

• Limit close contact with others (stay at least two arms’ length apart)

• Wear a mask when around people who do not live in your household

• Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (hand sanitizer is good — it should be at least 60% alcohol), but doesn’t replace hand washing for the best possible protection)

• Be safe around food and drinks (bring your own if possible)

While this might not be the year to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, there are still many creative ways you can celebrate “with” family members and friends and continue the traditions that mean so much during the holidays.

Here are some ideas:

• Decorate! Even if you won’t be entertaining to the extent you usually do, make your home festive! Pull out all those ornaments you’ve collected over the years, put up that tree and deck your halls with lights, greens, music and candles. Don’t forget to decorate outside, too! Maybe this is the year you put up outside lights … lots of outside lights. Get the entire household involved and then enjoy your efforts as you sip mulled cider or hot cocoa. Or pile the family into the car and drive around and enjoy festively decorated homes in your community — just like you did when they (or you) were little.

Send holiday cards. Many people stopped sending cards during the holidays because “it’s just too much work.” Well, we all have a lot more time on our hands this year, so let’s resurrect that wonderful tradition of reaching out to loved ones via a card or picture postcard. Be sure to include a short note letting recipients know how much they mean to you, or get creative and include a humorous (short!) letter. It’s a great way to stay close to those we can’t, well, actually be in the same room with this year.

Shop online. If you want to avoid going into stores or malls, online shopping can be a huge help. But it’s not all about Amazon — many local stores, such as Anna Grace, Blue Table Chocolates, the TreeHouse Toy Store and Thin Ice — have online shopping options so you can support your community while finding unique gifts for everyone on your list. Hint: shop and ship early to be sure your gifts arrive on time! Visit www.usps.com/holiday/holiday-shipping-dates.htm for the recommended deadlines for domestic, international and military shipping.

Go car caroling. Rather than go door to door caroling, get a few of the neighbors together, decorate your cars, open the windows and sing out as you drive around. Be sure to spend a few extra minutes in front of the houses of neighbors who are quarantined, elderly or homebound.

Make family food favorites. Just because the entire extended clan can’t get together this year, there’s no reason you can’t still enjoy grandma’s cookies, Aunt Sally’s scalloped potatoes or Uncle Fred’s fudge. Serve up a delicious holiday meal for the household, full of family favorites. Put together some goodies to take to elderly or vulnerable neighbors — they’ll appreciate your thinking of them. Or drop off a pizza, cookies or other treats to your local fire department, nursing home or hospital (be sure to call ahead and make sure it’s OK to do so).

Enjoy a virtual visit with Santa. Since most stores are foregoing having Santa on hand to personally make his list and check it twice, here’s a creative way for your kids to make sure Santa knows exactly what’s on their Christmas wish list. Go to one of several websites, such as www.jinglering.com or www.mrkringle.com, for a magical chat or visit with Santa, direct from the North Pole.

Open gifts together via Zoom. Many families with out-of-town relatives have been doing this for years, but opening gifts together via Zoom is a great way to bring the family together safely. Of course, it means being organized: you have to shop, wrap and send the gifts so they arrive in time (don’t forget to tuck in some of your homemade holiday treats)! Make it more festive by requesting everyone wear a Christmas sweater or socks or Santa hat (include the family pets if you can!). And be sure to consider relatives in different time zones when scheduling your Zoom unwrapping.

Attend virtual worship services. Many of us have been worshipping online all along during the pandemic; well, Christmas is no different. While many houses of worship have reopened for in-person services – and many will still hold midnight mass – most offer live stream services via Zoom, You Tube, Facebook and other platforms. Check with your local church or diocese.

You might not be able to celebrate Christmas this year exactly as you have in years past, but that doesn’t mean Christmas 2020 can’t be special in new and different ways. It’ll certainly be one we all remember.

Happy holidays!

Photo: Many families with out-of-town relatives have been doing this for years, but opening gifts together via Zoom is a great way to bring the family together safely