How to Handle Holidays During COVID-19: How To Decline Invitations

Tips for handling the holidays during a pandemic

The holidays are nearly here and the pandemic is not going away any time soon. In fact, the number of new cases in the United States is hitting record highs on a near daily basis. Politicians, medical professionals, and news outlets all urge us to forgo holiday gatherings. 

The CDC indicates that small gatherings are an important contributor to the spread of COVID-19. 

It’s clear that getting together for holiday gatherings is not safe; and yet, it’s hard to let go of traditions. It’s even harder to deal with feeling like you’ve let down your family and friends.

The numbers are clear. Data shows that gathering with other people increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. Here is a chart showing the chances of someone at your gathering being infected with COVID-19. Pretty compelling.

One of the scariest things is that many people who are infected show no symptoms. So you may think you’re fine and still pass it on to your family members. 

Should You Attend Holiday Gatherings?

My personal opinion is that the risk of COVID is too great.  The CDC also indicates it is risky and provides guidelines to follow if you choose to take that risk.  

Yes, some people who get infected are just fine. 

Others die. 

I just read a story on Reddit where a person’s mother and brother both got infected. The brother went into cardiac arrest and died. The writer was asking whether to tell his mother while she was still in the hospital.  

These are the types of questions that people have to ask in the face of this disease.  

At the end of the day, you need to figure this out for yourself based on your circumstances and values. Assume you will be risking exposure. Is it worth attending?

Is it worth the risk of getting sick or of getting your family members sick?

Some argue that they don’t want to miss out on holiday gatherings with their grandparents because they may not have much time left.

That’s valid. 

And yet, I can’t help but wonder what happens if your grandparent contracts COVID during the holiday gathering? What if you had to choose to see them this year and and then have no more time with them or skip this year and hopefully have future holidays with them? What do you choose? This is a difficult decision.

Making Your Decision

Every time I think about whether to do something, I ask if doing the thing is worth the risk of getting sick and possibly dying.  

Last week I decided I needed to attend an important medical appointment.  

I was scared to go and did everything I could think of to ensure my safety. I scheduled my appointment first thing in the morning so I could be a first patient in. I researched the safety practices of the clinic and chose to go to a clinic in a small town. I was scared but went anyway.

A few days after my appointment I received a telephone call that I was exposed to COVID during my appointment. I’m still waiting to see if I’ve contracted the virus.

COVID is everywhere and even when you try very hard to make sure everything is safe, you still might be exposed. You can’t control the safety practices of other people and don’t know what they’re doing, whether they’re practicing social distancing, whether the people they live or work with are practicing social distancing.

Sometimes it’s hard to even know how someone contracted the virus.

My personal decision is to decline all holiday invitations.

How to Decline a Holiday Invitation

Declining holiday invitations can a difficult decision. People are so divided on their opinions about this disease (among other things). I urge you to pay attention to the science, not politics, when making your decision. It isn’t about politics. The disease doesn’t care about your political alliances.

Emotions are at an all time high. A friend just told me that her family members are insisting she attend a Thanksgiving gathering that she doesn’t feel safe attending. They are talking behind her back saying how ridiculous she is for being so cautious.

Let me ask you this:  What kind of Thanksgiving is that? A pretty crappy one if you ask me. No one should ever feel pressured to go to a party they don’t wish to attend. It’s even worse when the pressure is coming after the person made a personal decision for her own health and the health of her family. 

I’m not going to any holiday gatherings and everyone knows it. That’s my first recommendation right there. 

Start now. 

Tell people that due to the pandemic you will be staying home this year. Don’t wait until the week before when people are already making plans.  Do it now.  

Say something like this, “Hey,  I know we usually get together every year for Thanksgiving/Christmas but this year because of the pandemic I’ve decided to stay home for the holidays.”

It’s really quite simple if you keep it like that. Don’t give an excuse and don’t shame others who might go to the party. If you make an excuse or come on too strong you may be causing an argument because it may seem like you’re judging those who decide to go.  

For some extra help, read my post on how to say no. Remember, the more you practice the skill, the better you will get at using it!

Just stick with the facts.  If you need to, you can blame the CDC.

“I’ve decided to stay home for the holidays.”

What if they argue?

Just stick to your statement that it’s your decision.  Make it clear that this is your decision and it isn’t a reflection of them, it’s your personal decision.  It might look something like this:

You:  Hey,  I know we usually get together every year for Thanksgiving/Christmas but this year because of the pandemic I’ve decided to stay home for the holidays.

Them:   That’s ridiculous. It’s totally safe. None of us are sick. Grandma will be so disappointed if you don’t attend.

You:  I hear you. This is something that I’ve already decided and I hope you can respect my decision. I’m disappointed to miss out as well but it’s important that I follow through on my decision.

Them:  Oh, come on. It isn’t that big of a deal. We only get together once a year.  

You:  I understand that we have different opinions on this. I’ve decided I am going to stay home this year and hope that things are back to normal next year.  

For more help with saying no, I recommend: How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

What Do You Do When Others Get Angry?

Everyone is tired and hurting at this time. It’s possible that people may feel rejected and angry if you decline an invite. You may experience judgments similar to what my friend experienced.  

Here’s the thing.

People are going to judge you whether you go or whether you don’t go.  

Whichever way you choose, people will judge you.  

Understand that it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, it’s about them.  

If someone becomes angry and treats you poorly because of the choices you make for your own safety or for the safety of your family members, then that’s really their problem more than it is yours.  

Try not to engage in arguments about it. Take a break from talking to the person if you have to. Arguing will only lead to more negativity. People feel strongly about their positions on this virus. 

It’s ok for someone to be angry with you. Think of times you’ve been angry with others. In most cases you’ve gotten over it and moved on. Fighting with someone will make it worse.

Giving in to the argument and attending the party anyway has the potential to damage relationships.

You will likely feel fearful and resentful while there. Then, if you get sick after the party you may feel blame toward them for “making” you go. (No one can make you do anything unless you are a minor and have to listen to your parents).   

Imagine if someone else gets sick and you worry if it was you that was carrying the virus? Do you want to experience that guilt when you didn’t even want to go in the first place?  I say NO THANKS.  

Connect In Other Ways

You miss your family. Me too. 

With all that’s goign on the world. People are feeling extra isolated. For some people, holidays are a stressful time already.  Staying connected can be a postive way of coping.

I miss my parents a lot and I’m not going to set foot in their house until this has passed.  I’m not going to risk giving them this virus.  End of story.  

With the holidays approaching, this is a bummer.  I like going to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and sitting around the table talking.  This is my favorite holiday. However, there are some options to consider:  

  • Phone calls:  Have a special phone call for the day
  • Zoom calls:  Create a video party and eat dinner together over Zoom. While there are some logistics involved that may be difficult for non-techy individuals, this is an option! 
  • Send a card or write a letter.

People want to connect and feel like they matter. Make sure your family members know you still care about them by reaching out on the holidays even if you don’t attend the holiday parties. This may reduce the amount people take things personally.  

Dealing With Loneliness Over The Holidays

If you decide to forgo the normal holiday in person gatherings, you may experience loneliness and sadness. 

It may be helpful to plan ahead for this. 

What are some things you enjoy doing over the holidays? Can you do some of those things? 

  • Watch favorite holiday movies (maybe even watch them simultaneously with those you cannot spend time with)
  • Take a drive and look at some holiday decorations
  • Listen to holiday music
  • Look at pictures from previous years
  • Plan a Post-COVID epic party and imagine what it will be like once we all get through this together.  

I wish you the best during this difficult time.  Stay safe and take care of yourself.  

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How to Decline Holiday Invitations and Stay Home

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