Health Team

The holidays are often when Americans see family, but many are canceling this year

Posted December 16, 2020 4:58 a.m. EST

— No Christmas Eve dinners with lots of loved ones, community holiday celebrations or trips to visit extended family: In any other year so many canceled plans would be unusual, but the rising Covid-19 case numbers have ensured that many people will have a socially distanced holiday season.

Making the decision to not see family members is a difficult one, but it's one that can help slow the spread of the virus, according to the latest guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Zoom spaghetti dinner

Although it was the right decision, Kate Donahue in Sherwood, Oregon, said it didn't make canceling plans any easier. Her extended family canceled their annual in-person Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner.

Donahue's mother died in 2018, and Donahue said this will be the first time she and her sister will not be together on their mother's birthday, which is Christmas Eve.

"It is frustrating to cancel plans, but you can rage against the machine all day long, but it's not going to really do any good because it's not going to help Covid go away," Donahue said.

Her mother was a terrible cook, Donahue said, but she could make delicious homemade spaghetti. To keep the tradition alive, each family will try and re-create the spaghetti dish for a video call Christmas Eve dinner.

She's not the best cook -- just like her mom -- so Donahue might end up "pouring a jar of Ragu in the pan" and telling everyone she made it.

Grieving lost time

Grieving the loss of not seeing family members is a normal reaction that should be embraced, said Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association.

For many people, the holidays are a time where they can come together and let go of the day-to-day stresses of life. People are disappointed they won't get to see their loved ones in person, Wright said, but that it is a necessary decision to slow the spread of the virus.

"Nobody dies from disappointment, but people die from Covid," Wright said.

Instead of viewing the holidays as something that's being taken away, she suggests people reframe it as an opportunity to create new traditions.

"We as a country need to kind of suck it up and find alternative ways to connect with our family members and make this holiday special," Wright said.

Santa Rampage for two

One of the highlights of Milwaukee resident Karen Waldkirch's holiday season is the Santa Cycle Rampage. Over 3,000 cyclists dress up in their most festive costumes and bike the streets, spreading Christmas cheer.

This year's annual bike ride was canceled, but Waldkirch still wanted to participate in the event, which is a "big shot of joy that kicks off the holiday season." She and her daughter, Maria Waldkirch, dressed up as Santa and biked around their neighborhood dropping off homemade eggnog.

Although her daughter is spending Christmas with her, she is disappointed that her son, who lives in Los Angeles, is not coming home. It will be the first Christmas in 33 years that she won't see him, but she knows it's the right decision to keep everyone safe.

"I know everybody's losing their minds with impatience, but man, these are small things we have to do to get through this together," Donahue said.

Canceled family trip

Dr. Jasmyne Jackson at Boston Medical Center has seen firsthand how the coronavirus has disrupted daily life and taken away family members, so she knew it was the right decision to tell her parents to not visit this Christmas. They are both over age 65, which is a high-risk category, and planned to travel from Michigan to visit her in Boston.

"I'd rather have the possibility of having more decades of time than just one singular moment over the holiday," Jackson said.

Jackson was forced to cancel her wedding last May due to rising Covid numbers. She ended up marrying her now wife, Adrianna Spindle-Jackson, in June in a much smaller wedding that her parents attended virtually.

At the beginning of December, her mother surprised her with a personalized wedding cake ornament. This is the longest she's gone without seeing her parents in person, so the gift showed that her parents love and support her, Jackson said, even if they can't be there in person.

She's hoping that there is a good vaccine dissemination plan over the coming months so that people can eventually celebrate with loved ones.

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