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How to celebrate the holidays safely

The weeks from Thanksgiving to the New Year are usually filled with celebrations, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to sharply limit their social interactions in the name of public health.

“The hard fact is that, if we want this pandemic to come to an end, this year’s holiday season must look different than it has in years past,” said Michael Calderwood, MD, MPH, infectious disease specialist and associate chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“While it may be difficult not to spend the holidays traveling to and gathering with friends and family, it’s what we must do to protect each other and ensure we will be able to resume these traditions in the future.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health offers these tips for making celebrating the holiday season safe this year:

Gather only with people in your “bubble.” As we move into the winter, it is critical to establish who will be in your “COVID-19 bubble,” or small group you feel safe spending time with, which may include household members, neighbors, family and friends who live close by, have limited exposure to large groups of people and public places, and practice the safety precautions of masking, hand-washing and physical distancing.

Outdoors is better than indoors. While gathering outside becomes more difficult as the weather gets colder, it is the better option if possible. If you have access to outdoor heat lamps or fire pits, this can be a good way to enjoy a holiday gathering outside while keeping warm. You may also consider gathering with friends and family for a physically distanced walk or hike instead of a large indoor meal.

Keep gatherings small and short. The fewer people you can have in person at your holiday gatherings, the better. Spending less time in contact with people outside your household is also advised; current guidelines suggest not to spend more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period in contact with people you don’t live with when possible. The elderly, pregnant women, people with pre-existing health conditions and others in high-risk groups should avoid group gatherings altogether.

Create new traditions. If you can’t safely practice family holiday traditions, consider trying new ones. Add new recipes to your meal, do a holiday-themed puzzle or art project with immediate family, host a group video chat with loved ones you can’t be with, or donate food to a local food pantry for its holiday dinner.

Take part in religious services safely. Many families’ Christmas and Hanukkah traditions include attending holiday religious services. Most houses of worship that have reopened are closely adhering to COVID-19 guidelines, and you should inquire with the clergy at your church, temple or mosque about the safety measures that are being taken and decide if attending services is right for your family.

If your house of worship is offering virtually streamed services, this is an even better choice.

Skip large group public gatherings. Black Friday shopping, sporting events, parades, and other large gatherings with people in close proximity to each other are not safe and should be avoided.