When we truly began to feel the effects of the pandemic on our everyday lives, it was only the beginning of the year. March 2020 marked the first time we lived experiences that we only ever thought we would see in movies—a mass shutdown of all businesses; lonely streets in our neighborhoods; people only leaving home for basic necessities; no work and no school. Our communities looked and felt like ghost towns.
Many of us were very confident (or at least, very hopeful) during these early months of the year that this would all go away soon. If someone would have asked you back in the Spring of this year if you thought the holidays would be spent still coping with the pandemic, you would have likely responded no way. Or at least, it would have been difficult for you to imagine that COVID-19 would not be under control after 9 months. But, here we are in the last month of the year, with only weeks left until 2021—23 days to be exact—and still coping with the effects of the pandemic. Our confidence and hopefulness has been sobered as the death toll rises and as we hear the eerie warnings from the CDC of dark winter days ahead.
Togetherness is a primary theme of the holiday season for many people. December festivities would typically begin right now with holiday parties with loved ones, friends, and co-workers. Travel is commonplace for many people during these times whether for the purposes of visiting loved ones or to get away and enjoy the season with some R&R. However, social distancing is still critical. Large gatherings are strongly discouraged. Travel is technically possible, but considered quite the hassle in many cases and rather risky in terms of potentially infecting yourself or someone else.
Then there is the reality of loneliness and longing for company and companionship during these days. The holidays can be quite sentimental for many people and the last thing we want is to find ourselves celebrating alone at home. Just when we thought that the adjustment process was tough back in March, our ability to cope with the pandemic is now, during the holiday season, being tested more than ever before.
There are effective ways we can all cope, individually and collectively, and keep the spirit and energy of the season alive. The way we spend the holidays will no doubt be different, but it’s up to us to see the beauty in these current difficult and trying times.
Organize small gatherings; outdoors if possible.
You can still celebrate and have your loved ones over, but it’s going to take some creativity and planning. If weather permits, and if you have the option to stay outdoors, this will work in your favor. As long as everyone has a good-quality mask on, maintain the necessary 6-foot distance, and wear some extra layers to bear the colder December temperatures (if applicable), then you certainly can have small gatherings with some of your loved ones. If you have a larger family and social circle, organize gatherings on different dates in the coming weeks so that you keep it small and intimate. Think of possibilities and solutions, not barriers and limitations. Your mindset about all of this will be key to enjoying the season. It will take some flexibility because we definitely won’t be celebrating the way we are accustomed to, but our attitude towards making adjustments and making it work in order to see loved ones will make all the difference. Keep in mind that if you or your loved ones don’t have a home with a backyard to gather in, you can meet in outdoor, public settings that are open and allow for social distancing. Think: Meeting with a few family members at an outdoor-seating restaurant to enjoy a holiday lunch.
Many people are taking flights and traveling nationally and internationally, where permitted. However, this is being strongly discouraged. Some flights have social distancing, but in many cabins of airplanes there is zero social distancing. You can be safe and simply stay home, meeting virtually with loved ones. This is certainly not the ideal option, but it is the safest. A good way to cope is to do your best to make some fun plans to do holiday activities locally. You can schedule outings or sightseeing—kind of like being a tourist in your own city or town so long as you stay safe. You can also Google various fun, indoor holiday activities—maybe things you enjoyed doing when you were a child that remind you of the holidays. Again, your mindset will make all the difference here. Consider that this year, your holidays can be more low-key and you can use the time to do things that you normally don’t get to do during the typical hustle and bustle of the whole month of December.
If you must travel, car rides are likely your safest option for obvious reasons: You’re alone or with only a limited amount of people. Many people are considering this option in order to avoid crowded airports and flights.
This holiday season will be an opportunity for you to showcase the many insights you’ve gained and lessons you’ve learned this year as you have coped with loss, change, isolation, loneliness, grief, stress, and many other difficulties brought on by the pandemic. How will you use this time? What will you do to ensure that these next few weeks are filled with joy, gratitude, positivity, and peace? Let’s focus on what we have and not on what we are missing out on. Let’s use the holiday season of 2020 to be wholeheartedly thankful.
Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program