2020 has been grim. As the end of the year approaches, we’re all navigating a holiday season like no other. Even though December looks different, now is the time to be creative and focus on what matters most, while doing our part to keep our communities safe. Those of us who are privileged enough to work from home owe it to frontline and essential workers to do our part to slow the pandemic this season.

Here I offer my recommendations for safe and lower-risk activities during the holidays, as well as insight into what has and hasn’t worked well. I’ve also attempted to map my personal holiday plans using the Public Health Communications Collaborative’s useful holiday guide, which may help you too.

Click for the full pdf version.



Holiday Decorating

During a typical year, I avoid baking. But in an attempt to de-stress this month, I plan to decorate homemade cookies, make gingerbread houses, and share any extras with neighbors. Recent studies have shown that surfaces and food are not likely to spread COVID, so I feel safe dropping off baked goods. Virtual cookie decorating parties via Zoom are another fun way to connect with neighbors and old friends.

I especially love the following molasses cookie recipe, which incorporates classic winter spices like ginger, cloves, and cinnamon:

Molasses Cookies

  • 1 ½ sticks butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda  

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine. Bake cookies 8-10 minutes at 350°F. Yields two-dozen cookies. 

I won’t need to travel to see my family, because I already live with my parents. (I’m not alone in this — for the first time in decades, a majority of young adults are living with relatives.) We’ve opted to go all-out on outdoor holiday lights, outfitted our stone goose in a red-and green-themed costume, and brought out the ever-popular holly Christmas wreath. I’ve also loved seeing the informal decoration rivalries that seem to have formed in my neighborhood. My friends who live in smaller spaces, like studio apartments, have opted for paper snowflakes, indoor lights around their windows, and half-batches of various holiday treats.

Be a Hero: Watch TV

Help #SlowTheSpread by bingeing a new show. I’ve found that kind-hearted comedies are great pandemic TV. I’m looking forward to finishing “One Day at a Time” (Netflix), and I also recommend “Schitt’s Creek” (Netflix) and “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV). For movies, I recommend “Spy” (Hulu), “My Cousin Vinny” (Amazon Prime), and “Palm Springs” (Hulu).

Holiday movies, both classic and new, are one of my favorite genres during the winter. For my family, the go-to holiday classic is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” For more recent holiday movies and entertainment, I recommend “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix) and “Happiest Season” (Hulu). Although I haven’t gotten to it yet, I’m excited to watch “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” (Netflix).

To me, 2020 seems slightly less terrifying in comparison to horror movies. I’ve recently enjoyed “Run” (Hulu), “Freaky” (Amazon Prime), “The Invisible Man” (HBO), and the excellent “Dr. Sleep” (HBO). I’m looking forward to re-watching the under-appreciated “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Ginger Snaps,” “It Follows,” and “The Descent” (all available on Amazon Prime). Others you might consider include “Train to Busan” (Amazon Prime), “Get Out,” (Hulu), and “Misery” (HBO).

Non-Screen Activities

Even though I’ll watch some TV and movies, I’m going to make a conscious effort to have less screen time and enjoy books, audiobooks, and radio. I’ve just started the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which looks at botany through both scientific and Indigenous lenses. With the free Libby app, I’ve also been listening to audiobooks through my local library. Thanks to Libby, I recently finished listening to Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Next up for me is Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Craft items are finally back in stock, so I’ve been attempting to knit a scarf, create holiday cards as gifts, and make masks. If simply getting through 2020 wasn’t enough of a challenge, you could try the following activities I gave up in April — learning a language, doing at-home workout videos, and decluttering.



The Great Outdoors

Getting outside — even as the weather cools down — remains an important, relatively low-risk way to get moving and relieve stress. While being outside doesn’t automatically mean you’re safe from COVID, it’s absolutely safer than spending time inside with others. I’ve been enjoying walks in the cooler winter weather. Biking or jogging are equally safe, provided you either keep your mask on or have it readily accessible for when you pass by other people.

I’m looking forward to seeing the upcoming “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn on the Solstice (December 21). The two planets will appear to “touch or even form on large, brilliant star in the sky,” according to NPR. The next overlap won’t occur for another few decades, so make sure to get outside and take a look.

Another unexpected silver lining of the pandemic has been the chance to see our local wildlife throughout the day. My family has set up a bird feeder, and we’ve seen red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, and goldfinches, to name just a few. We’ve also enjoyed our neighborhood fox, who crosses through the yard every day between 7:30 and 9:00 am.

Staying Social

Although it can take some planning, there are ways to socialize relatively safely. If you want to visit with people outside your pod, there are ways you can do it outdoors. To stay warm, set up a fire pit, dress for the weather, and drink warm beverages like hot cider, tea, or cocoa. The key to doing this safely is to ensure at least six feet between people. Marking this out with masking tape or painters tape helps me stick to this distance, since it can be difficult to accurately estimate. Everyone should wear masks when not actively drinking, since being outside on its own doesn’t guarantee you won’t get or transmit COVID.

Open-Air Entertainment

Some places are holding open-air entertainment, including light displays. I plan to visit Meadowlark Gardens, a botanical garden in World Trap, Virginia, which is holding an impressive display of different decorations. Because these venues can get crowded, I’ll be sure to maintain my distance from others and keep my mask on the entire time. Small concerts outside and drive-in movies are other entertainment I would consider attending, if masked.


Unfortunately, some of my favorite holiday activities are just not in the cards this year. Any activity that involves being inside or with a large number of people is a high-risk activity for COVID. For these reasons, this year I won’t be:

Caroling or Attending In-Person Services

Singing seems to be especially risky when it comes to COVID, since it aerosolizes the virus. Since religious holiday services are indoors and involve people outside my pod, I’ll avoid these as well. Many religious institutions are holding online services, which are an important alternative.

Traveling to See Extended Family

This one is tough. We’re social creatures, and the holidays are a time when we get to see our loved ones from out of town. There’s no way around it — not seeing others is difficult and sad. Planning a video call is the safest option, and my family has been having regular Zoom calls to stay in touch. I can’t recommend planning to visit those outside your pod; however, people who do plan to gather can reduce the risk with masks, outdoor time, and pre-visit isolation. Consider choosing to visit at “off-peak” times, such as before Christmas or after New Year’s, since airports and rest stops may be less crowded.

Shopping in Person

In-person shopping remains too risky for my taste, since it involves being indoors with many other people. Luckily, online shopping and curbside pick-up are easy and safe options. This is also a great time to consider gifting donations in your loved ones’ honor to help others in need. Food banks are especially important to support. I’ve prioritized Feeding America, which works on a national level to combat hunger in the U.S.

If you’ll be purchasing more conventional gifts, consider supporting local small businesses, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. If you can, shop at businesses that support their workers through paid sick leave, hazard pay, and fair wages.

We’re all embracing new ways of celebrating the holiday season. Our country is going through a tumultuous time, and we all need to do our part — especially those of us fortunate enough to be bored at home — to look out for the vulnerable and support our essential workers. This December won’t be the same, but be open to new ideas and remember why it’s so important that we follow public health guidelines. For now, stay safe and stay home.

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