What Will the Holidays Look Like With COVID-19?

What will the holidays look like in COVID-19?

 Verywell / Catherine Song

As the pandemic looms on, many families are starting to wonder what the holidays might look like in 2020. For some individuals, big family events seem out the question. For others, traditional travel plans may be up in the air.

Of course, every community might be a little different. An outdoor Halloween party might be completely acceptable in some communities, while other cities and states may not allow any social gatherings. For now, no one really knows what the holidays will look like, but it’s definitely not too early to start planning.

CDC Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released safety guidelines for holiday celebrations. While the CDC does not recommend being indoors or hosting large gatherings, it does suggest ways in which you and your family and friends can stay as safe as possible during the holiday season.

The CDC notes that its considerations should not replace any local or state safety laws.

Consider the Risk Before Planning Festivities

If you're living in a state or area with high levels of COVID cases, it's important to consider your risk of getting and spreading the virus before you decide to host or attend a gathering. You should consider not only where you live but also where your potential guests are traveling from and assess what your risk might be.

If you do decide to have a gathering, it's a good idea to keep it shorter. Longer events pose a greater risk.

Celebrate Outdoors If Possible

The CDC recommends that people celebrate outdoors if they can, as it is safer to do so than being in an indoor space. If, however, you cannot avoid celebrating indoors (depending on where you live, it may be too cold to be outside), make sure your space is well ventilated, limit the number of attendees, and try to celebrate with people from your area.

Travel Safely

You might be considering traveling to see some of your loved ones and friends. While the CDC recommends that it is better to stay home, if you decide to travel you should still follow typical guidelines (e.g., washing your hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing yourself when you can).

Get Your Flu Vaccine

The CDC suggests that September and October are great times to get a flu shot. To keep your kids and other family members safe during a gathering, it's a good idea to make sure your vaccines are up to date.

Halloween Masks and Costumes

Many children's costumes have masks. Maybe your child is dressing up as one of their favorite superheroes? If so, the CDC recommends that these masks should not be used in place of surgical masks.

If the costume mask is made of "two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers your mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around your face" it can serve as a protective face covering. If this is not possible, consider purchasing a Halloween-themed cloth mask for your child instead.

Most Families Will Likely Celebrate Somehow

In a year filled with uncertainty and canceled events, it seems that most parents aren’t OK with letting Halloween get canceled. An August survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that 74% of millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever right now.

But many of those parents acknowledge that they may need to celebrate Halloween in a less traditional manner. In an August poll conducted on the behalf of the National Confectioners Association, 63% of adults said they believe that people will find creative, fun and safe ways to celebrate Halloween this year.

Traditional Trick-or-Treat Alternatives

It’s unclear yet whether trick-or-treating will be canceled. Can kids safely collect candy door-to-door?

Many kids will be wearing masks with their costumes—so does that stop the spread of COVID-19 or contribute to it? There are so many unknowns at this point.

There’s a good chance that some communities may discourage or cancel trick-or-treating altogether. Other families may simply opt out of it this year even if it’s allowed.

Fortunately, the whole holiday doesn’t have to be canceled. There may be some fun ways for families to celebrate without compromising safety.

  • Virtual Halloween parties: Kids usually want to show off their costumes, so a virtual Halloween party might be the safest way to do that. They can connect with their friends and family via video chat while in full costume.
  • Trunk-or-treat gatherings: In some places, trunk-or-treat may still be an option if everyone is able to socially distance. This could involve cars decorating their trunks and lining up in parking lots to allow kids to collect candy in an outdoor setting.
  • Drive-through trick-or-treating: There may be some ways for families to trick-or-treat from the safety of their vehicles. It could involve picking up candy from the car to avoid face-to-face contact in the home.
  • Candy pick-ups near the street: Families might also leave candy in a container by the street so trick-or-treaters can pick up candy when walking by.
  • Virtual Halloween costume contests: You could develop a community Halloween costume contest where friends, family, and community members can vote on the best costume. Prizes can be given in various categories.

Many communities may host other special events to help families celebrate—like house decorating contests, drive-through haunted houses, and scary movies at drive-in theaters.

Parents will need to decide what they feel is safe for their families this year. Some may be interested in trick-or-treating at a few homes while others may decide to celebrate without leaving home.

Traditional Thanksgiving Alternatives

It’s too soon to know what Thanksgiving may look like this year. But for many people, a traditional big family gathering may be out of the question. This may be especially true if certain family members are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, like those with compromised immune systems.

Some families may decide to join extended family by video chat. And while it’s clearly not the same as eating a meal around the same table, it may be a safer way to spend time together this year.

Other families may try to do outdoor gatherings—or they may host meals in their garages so everyone can be six feet apart. Of course, in some areas, the weather will be a little too cold to eat outdoors (or in an unheated garage), so this may not be an option for everyone.

For those who live alone and normally travel to see family, they might opt to eat Thanksgiving dinner with close friends or co-workers that they’ve already been spending time with.

Will Families Travel for the Holidays?

Many families might not be traveling to their usual destinations for winter break this year either. According to reports by CNN, surveys by Zeta Global have found that 58% of consumers are not planning to travel for the holiday season this year. That’s up from 49% last year and it equates to 31 million fewer travelers.

This may be in part due to fears about flying. It may also involve the desire to avoid large family gatherings.

Will some take road trips? Perhaps they’ll drive to Grandma’s house or they’ll drive to a hotel for a quiet get-away with just immediate family.

It’s unclear at this point what the COVID situation might be by late December (some are hopeful vaccines will be available by then). Other people are concerned that colder weather, combined with potential spread in re-opened schools, will lead to another spike in cases in the fall or winter.

How to Talk to Kids About 'Different' Celebrations

Your kids might be quite disappointed to learn that they can’t go trick-or-treating or that you’re not going to have your annual family basketball game on Thanksgiving with all the cousins. But a change in plans can also be a good opportunity to help them adapt, learn, and grow.

Make it clear that the holidays aren’t canceled—you’re just doing things differently this year. Acknowledge any sadness, disappointment, or anger they feel. Avoid minimizing their emotions by saying things like, “It’s not a big deal.” To them, it is a big deal.

Recognize that it was important to them and make it clear that you’re going to do your best to make it the best holiday you can, given the circumstances. Showing them a little empathy might encourage them to get involved in planning a less traditional holiday alternative.

A Word From Verywell

While there are still many uncertainties surrounding the holiday season this year, it’s not too early to start thinking about how you might celebrate this year. Thinking ahead might help ensure you’re still able to create a fun, memorable experience for the whole family.

You might work with neighbors to organize a Halloween house decorating contest. Or, you might contact relatives to discuss everyone’s comfort level with Thanksgiving this year. Bringing up the subject now gives everyone a chance to give their input on how they’d like to spend the holidays.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Holiday celebrations. Updated September 21, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked influenza (flu) questions: 2020-2021 Season. Updated September 21, 2020.

  3. PR Newswire. New survey data: Halloween is happening and Americans are ready to celebrate creatively and safely throughout October. Published August 7, 2020.

  4. Vora S. Is winter holiday travel canceled? Not quite. CNN Travel. Updated August 11, 2020.