The Parent's Guide to Planning Family Holidays in a Pandemic

We're all craving connection more than ever, but the best thing you can do to lower your family's coronavirus risk is to skip large household gatherings. It's definitely not ideal, but it's better to be safe than sorry this holiday season.

Family toasting on video call with near and dear ones on occasion of Christmas celebration
Photo: Getty Images

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and's COVID-19 Guide for up-to-date information on statistics, disease spread, and travel advisories.

Let's just cut right to the chase: If you've been on the fence about whether or not to go ahead with your 2020 holiday family party, it's probably time to think about canceling things—or making major adjustments.

I know that's not the answer any of us want, but with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing and COVID-19 cases rising across the country—the U.S. is again breaking records with outbreaks—the safest decision is to celebrate the upcoming holidays only with your immediate family.

In a year that's brought so much difficulty and suffering, thinking about celebrating Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah with loved ones was the one thing many of us had to look forward to. We're all craving that connection. Now it looks like winter 2020 is going to be long and grim as families go back to limiting exposure to others, especially in cold-weather locations where outdoor activities are mostly off the table.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, has also cautioned against big holiday plans, which could increase transmission rates. "It is unfortunate because that's such a sacred part of American tradition—the family gathering around Thanksgiving," Dr. Fauci told CBS. "But that is a risk."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also urging against traveling for Thanksgiving and, instead, recommending postponing all travel and celebrating at home.

I'm feeling this same disappointment firsthand, having just canceled my family's annual Christmas Eve party. With such a big New Jersey family, the thought of celebrating indoors and potentially putting so many people at risk of COVID-19 just didn't make sense. I couldn't with good faith have a large party and then send my toddler back to daycare and possibly put other kids at risk, too. And even with me being pregnant and potentially at a higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and intensive care unit (ICU) admission should I get infected, the decision not to host Christmas Eve still didn't come easy. It's my favorite time of year, after all. And if it's yours too, I definitely feel your pain.

COVID-19 Is Still a Very Real Risk

Still not quite sure? Let the COVID-19 data and warnings speak for themselves:

  • More than 910 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and at least 238,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.
  • COVID-19 cases in kids are on the rise. More than 853,635 children have tested positive, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and they represent over 11 percent of all coronavirus cases.
  • The coronavirus spreads quickly among household members—regardless of age. An October CDC report found that children, teens, and adults can easily spread the virus to others in the home.
  • COVID-19 is highly contagious, and someone who's asymptomatic or has mild symptoms could spread it to someone else who could experience more serious symptoms or dangerous side effects.
  • Wearing a mask and social distancing can help stop coronavirus transmission, but those precautions are more difficult to enforce at indoor family gatherings—especially if a family might be crammed at a table during Thanksgiving dinner.
  • With less airflow and more surfaces—like tables, chairs, and door handles that people frequently touch—that respiratory droplets can land on, COVID-19 risk is greater indoors.

In fact, the CDC even put out holiday guidelines to help families make plans with the lowest possible risk, noting that "Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others."

You can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding crowded Black Friday shopping and skipping packed parties or large indoor gatherings with people outside of your household, which the CDC classifies as higher risk activities. Yes, you could potentially gather with a few more people if you all agree to quarantine for two weeks before, but that's simply not realistic for most Americans, including working parents and kids attending school in person. Your best—and safest—bet to limit exposure is to opt for a small dinner with the people you live with, host a virtual celebration for extended family and friends, shop online, and enjoy sports or parades from home.

Celebrate Guilt-Free

For those of you thinking that you're still going to do what's best for your family, even if that means holding a big, traditional gathering indoors, hear me out: Your decision impacts more than just your family. The reality is that large indoor celebrations can also affect your coworkers, neighbors, friends, and students your child goes to school with. And remember: Getting tested is not an answer for not quarantining for 14 full days if you've potentially been exposed to COVID-19. A negative test only means that you were not positive on the day tested, but you could still test positive or become sick in the days to follow.

None of this is fair, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Just think, playing it safe this year could mean celebrating and making memories with everyone you love for many, many years to come.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles