COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Mental health

Preparing for the holidays in the age of COVID-19

A young woman at home, surrounded by Christmas decorations, writing in a card that reads 'happy holidays'

For many, this holiday season will have a different look and feel compared to years past. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant we have had to be more creative when it comes to connecting with loved ones for meaningful events. Instead of typical holiday gatherings with all of those nearest and dearest to us, we will have to figure out how to celebrate in ways that make us feel like we are together, although we are physically apart from loved ones outside of our home.  This may lead to feelings of disappointment because of changes to, and the postponement or cancellation of annual traditions or plans.

“The loss of important activities and rituals that provide continuity in our lives can often generate grief and feelings of powerlessness,” says Wes Roberts, a spiritual care practitioner in Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre. “Being able to consciously find something each day over the holidays that provides some enjoyment and delight is one way individuals can create for themselves an alternate ritual given circumstances of the pandemic.”

He adds it is important to continue to do things that help to represent occasions in some way to maintain a sense of connection and meaning.

“This year, for example, by looking to create small and alternative activities for yourself where it is possible and safe to do so can help acknowledge the holidays in a fresh way that can still bring some comfort and/or joy to the season,” he explains.

New takes on old traditions

Being physically distanced from family and friends doesn’t mean you are alone.

“There are different ways to continue to feel connected, even when you’re physically apart,” says Dr. Carolyn Boulos, psychiatrist at Sunnybrook. “Having phone conversations, meeting virtually in an online platform, or sending a hand-written letter can bring people together. It isn’t the same as seeing one another in person, but these kinds of connections can help boost mental health, especially during the holidays and the COVID-19 pandemic when this kind of support is so important.”

Due to the pandemic many religious and cultural communities are exploring alternative ways to maintain contact, including how they provide holiday celebrations. Reaching out and connecting with these communities and celebrations online, for example, might help lift holiday spirits.

“Virtual platforms allow for creativity and innovation,” says Roberts.

Here are some ideas for online holiday celebrations:

  • Hold a virtual decorating party: meet online to trim the tree or share ideas for decorating the mantle
  • Get together online to light candles on a menorah
  • Virtual sharing in songs, music, meaningful spaces, and cherished prayers
  • Consider creating ‘gratitude’ decorations: craft personalized decorations with sentiments of gratitude for sharing and display

Other ways to have holiday fun during the pandemic:

  • Get outdoors: build a snowman or go on a winter’s hike with members of your household
  • Drive through events: check your local listings for holiday lights displays or events that offer drive-in or drive-through options
  • Go online and decorate gingerbread houses with family and friends
  • Use a virtual platform to meet and bake traditional recipes together
  • Holiday movies: pick a day when family and friends can join online and watch a holiday movie together from the comfort of their own homes
  • Mail out hand-written holiday letters or cards
  • Handmade gifts are also a thoughtful touch and an opportunity to get creative
  • Holiday dance party: pick an online platform and dance it up with family and friends

Whatever way you choose to connect. Remember to have fun and celebrate in the spirit of the season.

“We may surprise ourselves with discovering innovative rituals and expanded ways to celebrate during this year’s holiday season, which could become added to someone’s yearly holiday traditions well into the future,” says Roberts.

“This a time of year to remember others in our many different communities,” says Dr. Boulos. “It may be your work, family, religious, and cultural communities. Taking the time to send a card or share in a phone call to say, ‘I miss you’, carries the warmth and sentiment of the holiday season.”

Coping during COVID-19: mental health resources from our Department of Psychiatry

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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