November 1, 2021

The holidays are a joyous time of year when we gather together with family and friends to eat, drink, play games and simply enjoy being with our loved ones.

Now that we’re into November, the most-anticipated holiday season will soon be upon us, starting with the long Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve been advised to scale back when it comes to participating in large gatherings. Behaviors that once seemed so innocuous, like hugging, kissing, passing out gifts, and even sitting down and sharing food with one another, may need to take a back seat for a while until we’re certain what the future holds when it comes to practicing what used to be considered “normal” to us. We don’t want to miss out on being with family, so what can we do to make this season enjoyable, as well as safe?

Safe Travel Plans

It’s well known that the Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest travel holiday, but heeding certain guidelines to stay safe and healthy is very important. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention outlines four different levels of safety practices when it comes to celebrating, which includes Transportation, Lodging, Food, and Camping. These four areas are then divided into five different risk levels: lowest risk, lower risk, medium risk, medium-high risk, and high risk. For example, they say that the lowest risk for travel is taking a short trip by car with no stops along the way. Higher risk practices include flights with layovers at crowded airports, staying at dormitory-style hostels where you’re lodging with people who don’t live in your home, and eating in a restaurant with little social distancing or where masks aren’t required. Talking with your family members about which guidelines you might want to follow is the first step in making wise decisions.

Virtual Celebrations

Although cozying up to a computer screen may not be as satisfying as sitting around the dining room table with others digging into mom’s famous pumpkin pie, this still may be the safest way to celebrate with extended family.

Franki Batten and her family are in New Orleans and finding new ways to interact with extended family out of state. She found that incorporating fun games for them to do virtually is a great way to spend time together even though they're apart. "It is all about finding small ways to connect with family," she explains. "We've made new special traditions by playing fun games with the grandparents and cousins that we can all do together over video chat. Last year we had the cousins make apple turkeys together on zoom and did a photo scavenger hunt where we all had to send each other pictures with different objects." These are fun ways to safely spend virtual time with family and friends.

Utilizing the Great Outdoors for Celebrations

Franki, her husband, and three kids are taking advantage of New Orlean's great outdoor spaces and finding new ways to celebrate safely outside. "Last year, the photo scavenger hunt was an excellent way to get the kids exploring outdoors, and this year we are thinking of doing a pie day!" She explains, "The day after Thanksgiving, everyone has leftover deserts, so we are asking our friends to bring their desserts and families to a park so we can all spend time together outside."  Being in open spaces with fresh air is sure to alleviate some of the pandemic-induced anxiety. 

Celebrating in Person

Dr. Laura Boudreaux, a pediatrician with the Baton Rouge Clinic, has some solid advice when it comes to gathering with family and friends. “As far as Thanksgiving is concerned, limiting gatherings to single families that live in the same house would be best at preventing spread of the virus,” she offers. “If families would still like to gather with other members that do not live in the home, then everyone should wear masks inside unless sitting to eat.”

Other advice she gives is that families who live together should be grouped at their own table, and then socially distance the different groups, if possible. She also says that if you can gather outside or open windows or doors to help ventilate the air, that will be helpful.

Family Meals at Thanksgiving

“With food sharing, buffet style would be best with everyone wearing masks while serving food,” Dr. Boudreaux says. “Wash your hands before going through the buffet line, and don’t touch anyone else’s food or drinks. It’s also advised not to pass bread around the table.” 

Being Without Others

As far as the mental and emotional impact isolation is having on people, Dr. Boudreaux agrees with the practice of using technology to stay in touch with distant family and friends. “Zoom and Facetime those loved ones who are isolated due to increased risk for disease,” says Dr. Boudreaux.

Franki states that despite having the technology to interact, it's still despairing not to be with family again during the holidays. "It's difficult not to be with family again for the holidays. I think about my memories with my grandpa and my aunt's famous corn pudding, but this is a good opportunity for me to come up with new fun traditions with my husband and kids." 

The holidays are going to look a lot different, but if we play it safe, they will still be the most joyous time of the year.


By Julie Engelhardt and Lynzi Whalen 

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