Need help navigating these unprecedented holidays? We can help.

As most of us have already experienced during Pandemic Thanksgiving, the Pandemic Holidays are not going to be normal in any way. With a lack of federal leadership on Covid-19 or support for all those financially affected by the pandemic, the nation’s ongoing trend of spiking cases will make holiday gatherings even more fraught than we already expected after, well, all of 2020. It remains a tough conversation to have with family, especially for those who haven’t seen each other in at least a year now. But the best thing to do is to spend it in your own household, and only with people in your household. While it feels like a simple fact, we’re all in a strange new world of changes and negotiations that are likely making the holiday months feel more stressful than usual — and that requires having a plan.

So you know that staying home is the right thing to do. But it’s understandable if you’re still struggling with the idea of spending the holidays alone, or sad that you’re far from the family you usually spend it with. And that’s to say nothing of how everyone else you’d usually spend the holidays with feels about it. What to do if your family is still expecting you to fly for the holidays, or wants to drive over for a gathering, or your plans are otherwise unsettled because you’re not all on the same page? If you’re trying to say something along the lines of, “I don’t think we should spend the holidays together this year,” it’s important to come at the conversation with empathy. You could point out that while flying has been fairly safe in recent months, busier airports during the holidays makes it much more risky. You could point out that even getting tested at your destination is not foolproof (and takes much-needed tests away from frontline and essential workers). 

As Bill McKibben put it in The New Yorker, “Suddenly, the picture is different. Now it’s not having to contemplate a world without Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas: it’s having to contemplate a world without one Thanksgiving and one Hanukkah and one Christmas.” Maybe that won’t sound so bad to family members who are still grasping onto that last sense of normalcy for 2020.

No matter what, expect a conversation that deals in emotion more than reason: agree that you all want to see each other and talk about shared values, like the fact that you all care about each other’s well-being. Offer alternatives that still put them first, like an all-day Zoom. Whether or not you change anyone else’s mind, that sort of compassionate conversation can make it feel less fraught to say, simply, “I’m staying where I am this year.” 

Here is where we should acknowledge the unavoidable truth that some people are still going to travel or leave their household. If that ends up being the case for you, for whatever reason, read up on best practices for harm reduction. But if you’re one of the many people who can and will stay home this year, you deserve to make the most of it. In fact, if you’re really feeling glass-half-full, this could be the year you create a favorite new holiday tradition. 

Many people spend the holidays alone for various reasons under normal circumstances, and this year many of them have really stepped up to share how to get through it. One writer suggests an annual special-occasion bath, another recreating holiday traditions over Zoom (like holiday song karaoke, if that’s your thing). Psychologists advise self-reflection or bourbon (or both!). One of the most comprehensive guides out there comes from Rachel Wilkerson Miller, whose 2017 Buzzfeed article all about spending the holidays alone is perfectly prescient. She suggests a buffet of activities, special meals, and even wallowing in varying degrees of extravagance — but making a plan and building in flexibility is mandatory. Volunteering is also a great way to feel more connected to your community, and more needed than ever this year. 

As with most everything 2020 has thrown our way, the key is to keep an open mind and be a little creative about figuring out what will get you through this weird time — while knowing that you’re not alone, and you’re keeping your community safe.