What Will the Holidays Look Like With COVID-19?

What will the holidays look like in COVID-19?

 Verywell / Catherine Song

As the pandemic continues, many families are starting to wonder what the holidays might look like in 2021. Big family events may still seem tricky to pull off as some people are vaccinated but not others. Travel plans may be up in the air once again as virus variant hotspots crop up around the U.S. and globally.

Of course, different communities will be dealing with varying degrees of COVID-19 prevalence and shifting local guidelines. A festive bash might be completely acceptable in some places and off the table in others. You may need to alter your holiday plans as COVID-19 evolves, but it’s definitely not too early to think about how to celebrate safely on Halloween, Thanksgiving, and over the December holidays.

CDC Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly updates its guidance for holiday celebrations. It still recommends virtual gatherings as the safest form of socializing. If you do decide to get together with family and friends, the CDC advises you to stay in small groups whenever possible and to be aware of other risk factors.

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

Consider the Risk Before Planning Festivities

If you live in an area with high levels of COVID-19, it's important to consider guests' risk of getting and spreading the virus. You should consider not only where you live but also where your potential guests are traveling from and assess what your risk might be. The CDC's COVID tracker shows where the virus is spiking across the country.

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 gathering outdoors whenever you can, as it is safer to do so than congregating indoors. If you cannot avoid celebrating inside (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.

Get Your COVID-19 and Flu Vaccines

To keep your kids and other family members safe during the holidays, it's a good idea to make sure both your COVID-19 and flu vaccines are up to date. Both vaccinations can be given at the same time.

COVID-19 vaccines are free, widely available, and strongly recommended by the CDC for people ages 12 and older. The CDC suggests that everyone ages 6 months and older, with a few exceptions, get a flu shot in the fall of 2021.

Celebrating Halloween Safely

With vaccination numbers lagging and the Delta variant spiking in some areas, Halloween celebrations may seem more scary than spooky in 2021. Follow expert guidance to help keep yourself and your kids safe.

Haunted Houses and Theme Parks

Major entertainment venues, including Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, canceled Halloween events in 2020, but many reopened in 2021.

If you decide to visit a haunted house, maze, or theme park, be sure you and your vaccine-eligible family members are fully immunized against COVID-19. Plan your visit early or late to avoid crowds and wear a well-fitting mask in indoor areas even if you are vaccinated.

Halloween Masks and Costumes

Many children's costumes have masks, whether they are dressing up as their favorite superhero or Disney princess. But these masks are usually pretty flimsy. Unvaccinated kids who are older than 2 years old should swap out any single-ply costume masks with tight-fitting, two-ply masks when indoors—and outdoors, too, in areas with high COVID-19 rates.

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.

Trick-or-Treat Alternatives

It may still be unclear what trick-or-treating will look like in your area. Can kids safely collect candy door-to-door?

COVID-19 transmission is lower outdoors than in, so trick-or-treating outside is likely safer than indoor Halloween parties. However, some communities may discourage or cancel trick-or-treating, especially if local COVID-19 rates are high. Other families may simply opt out of it this year even if it’s allowed. If you are reluctant to send your little one around the neighborhood, there are other fun ways to celebrate.

Virtual Halloween Parties

Consider a virtual Halloween costume contest where friends, family, and community members can vote on the best costume. This is a great way to connect with loved ones from afar over Halloween. Award prizes in various categories.

Trunk or Treat Gatherings

You may be worried about kids stepping inside enclosed porches or home foyer areas to collect candy during traditional trick-or-treat activities. Trunk-or-treat involves people decorating their car trunks and lining up in parking lots to allow kids to collect candy in an outdoor setting.

Drive-Through or Curbside Candy

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.

Families might also leave candy in a container by the street so trick-or-treaters can pick up candy when walking by.

Traditional Thanksgiving Alternatives

For many people, a traditional big family gathering may be out of the question. This may be especially true if some family members are unvaccinated or especially vulnerable to COVID-19, like those with compromised immune systems. If that's the case, there are plenty of safer ways to feel the love on Thanksgiving.

Outdoor Thanksgiving Dinner

If it's possible to eat outside, that's always a safer choice in the COVID-19 era. There are things you can do to pull off an outdoor meal if the weather is chilly where you live. You may try to serve a meal in an open garage or covered porch. If you have access to heat lamps or lap blankets, you can set up tables and eat comfortably on the lawn or driveway.

Virtual Thanksgiving Meal

Some families may decide to join extended family by video chat. You can even swap recipes ahead of the holiday and hold your virtual meet-up during mealtime, sharing a blessing and commentary over delicious dishes online. While it’s clearly not the same as eating around the same table, it may be a safer way to spend time together this year.

Safe Holiday Travel

You may want to travel to see loved ones and friends for holiday festivities or to finally enjoy a long-delayed tropical getaway. The CDC recommends that you hold off on all recreational travel until you are fully vaccinated.

If you are vaccinated, be sure to still wear a mask in crowded areas or places where COVID-19 rates or high. If you are not yet vaccinated, the CDC stresses the importance of mask wearing whenever you are in public.

Unvaccinated people should also get a COVID-19 test one to three days prior to travel and again three to five days after returning home. Even if results come back negative, they should quarantine for a full week once back.

How to Talk to Kids About 'Different' Celebrations

Your kids might be quite disappointed to learn that they can’t attend a big Halloween bash, sleep over at their cousin's house on Thanksgiving, or go on an exciting ski or beach trip. But a change in plans can also be a good opportunity to help children adapt, learn, and grow.

Make it clear that the holidays aren’t canceled—you’re just doing things differently, perhaps once again. Acknowledge any sadness, disappointment, or anger they feel. Avoid minimizing their emotions by saying things like, “It’s not a big deal.” Showing a little empathy might encourage kids 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 a good idea to start thinking about how you might make the most of 2021 celebrations. Planning ahead might help ensure you’re still able to create a fun, memorable experience for the whole family.

You might work with neighbors to discuss extra-safe trick-or-treating practices or start talking ground rules for Thanksgiving or December family gatherings. Bringing up the subject now gives everyone a chance to provide 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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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Guidance for organizing large events and gatherings. Updated May 20, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Participate in outdoor and indoor activities. Updated August 19, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Frequently asked influenza (flu) questions: 2021-2022 season. Updated August 6, 2021.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your COVID-19 vaccination. Updated May 24, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your guide to masks. Updated August 13, 2021.

  6. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Domestic travel during COVID-19. Updated August 25, 2021.