The Loneliness Pandemic: How To Stay Connected This Holiday Season

Even if you can’t be with family and friends, here’s how to keep holiday traditions alive.

Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays aren’t going to look and feel quite the same this year thanks to COVID-19. But then again, nothing has felt normal since March for many people, when the pandemic changed our daily lives and limited our social connections.

This year, many of our favorite holiday traditions may be cancelled or altered, magnifying the loneliness and isolation you may already have been experiencing for months. Travel isn’t recommended, so you may be missing your extended family even more than usual. Add to that the fact that many people already feel isolated or get the blues for varied reasons around this time of year and that can add up to a very lonely holiday season.

Since you likely won’t be able to celebrate the holidays the way you usually do – with office parties, family dinners and festive get-togethers with friends – it’s worth finding other ways to stay connected at this time of year. Skype, Zoom and FaceTime are great ways to stay in touch, but you can keep your beloved traditions alive in other ways, too.

Here are 7 festive ideas to enjoy the holidays together even if you’re apart.

  1. Organize a virtual cookie-decorating contest. Bake or purchase plain sugar cookies shaped like dreidels, snowmen or stockings. Carefully package and mail some to each participating household and ask everyone to decorate the cookies. Choose one family member to be the judge and have everyone show off their creations during a video conference.
  2. “‘Twas the night before Christmas…” Ask a grandparent or other family member to read a holiday classic aloud. Send the recording to all extended family, along with a copy of the book or poem. Kids will love reading along to the narration for years to come.
  3. Arrange a holiday movie night. Have each household break out their cozy jammies and favorite holiday treats and connect everyone via Zoom or another video conferencing app. Play a favorite movie on your screen and share your view or have everyone watch the same movie on their own device while you all enjoy it together.
  4. Focus on socially distant activities. Sitting on Santa’s lap or visiting your house of worship might be a no-no this year, but you can drive around enjoying holiday light displays, chop down your own tree, go sledding or snowshoeing, or roast marshmallows around the fire pit, all without getting close to other people.
  5. Host a (small) party. For these types of celebrations, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends maintaining social distance, wearing face coverings and having everyone bring their own food and drink. If you decide to share food, offer recyclable or compostable plates and utensils, or have each household provide their own that they’ll take home and wash. If possible, stay outdoors if it’s warm enough (or bundle up if it’s cold) and try to stick to socializing with people in your family or social pod.
  6. Travel if you must. For those intent on keeping their holiday travel plans, the CDC offers these guidelines:
    • Don’t travel unless you’ve been symptom-free for at least two weeks.
    • Drive instead of fly, if possible.
    • If flying, choose an airline that is still keeping middle seats empty.
    • Self-quarantine in your hotel room for at least 48 hours before visiting family.
    • Continue regular precautions: Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose even if the city/state you’re traveling to doesn’t require it, maintain social distance, wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.
  7. Record as much as you can. Normally, the holidays are about putting down our devices and truly connecting with family. But this year is different, so whether you’re lighting the menorah, decorating the tree or opening presents, make sure to take lots of videos and photos. You can share them with other family members who can’t be with you this year. And when things return to “normal,” you’ll have evidence of how you made the most of this very unique holiday season.


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Date Last Reviewed: October 16, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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