Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Respectfully navigating the holiday season

12/3/2020 by Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., and Olivia Bogucki, Ph.D.


Here come the holidays — time to flock to crowded shopping malls; travel to visit family and friends; and gather to eat, drink and be merry. 

But, wait. It's 2020, and the world is in the middle of a pandemic. 

Many of the things that people ordinarily do this time of year are not a good idea from a public health standpoint. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, everyone needs to continue to use masks, exercise proper hand hygiene, limit travel, avoid congregating, and maintain appropriate social distancing. 

Taking these actions will reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission. However, doing so also may increase the risk of conflict for some, especially when family members do not agree on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

Here are some tips to consider when respectfully navigating these conversations during the holidays: 

  • Make plans based on your values.
    When you act in accordance with your values, you can feel content with your choices. Take time to reflect on what is important to you. Values can conflict with each other, such as maintaining health and safety versus spending time with family and friends. At times, compromises can be found. Other times, choosing one value over another may be necessary. 
  • Have the conversation early. 
    If you decide to take a pass on traveling to loved ones or having them come to you, the sooner you have this conversation, the better. If you have a partner, make sure that the two of you are on the same page and can present your decision as a united front. Who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised with how understanding others can be with your decision. But that may not always be the case. 
  • It's not a debate. 
    Your family or friends may challenge or criticize your decision to choose safety over congregating this holiday season. Do not feel obligated to defend your position, as it's a choice you have made based on your values. Keep the message simple and make sure it ends in a period. For example: "I love you. I would like to be with you, and I am choosing to stay at home this year." If you get pushback, repeat this same phrase to avoid getting drawn into a debate. In the end, while they may be disappointed in the situation or circumstances, they may end up accepting that this is how the holidays will have to be this year. 
  • Be flexible and open to doing things differently. 
    There may still be ways to connect during this holiday season. Some may figure out virtual get-togethers, find creative ways to socially distance, or have pickup or drop-off food options to share the meal. If there is one thing that has been learned in 2020, it is figuring out how to do things differently. 
  • Stay optimistic for today and the future. 
    This has been a challenging year for everyone. Although celebrating the holidays will look different this year, know that ongoing public health efforts to manage the pandemic eventually will succeed. Stay upbeat and positive that choices made today will help everyone in the future. Just because things are different this year does not mean that it's a disappointment. It's just different. Eventually, everyone will be able to get back together to celebrate the season with the usual traditions, but maybe some new traditions will have been learned along the way, as well. 

Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., co-chairs the Division of Integrated Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He is a professor of psychology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. 

Olivia Bogucki, Ph.D., is a psychology fellow with the Division of Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She is an assistant professor of psychology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.