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Navigating the Holidays During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A family navigating the Holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic on a zoom call with older relatives.

As the holiday season approaches, you might be faced with new and challenging circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic

There are many annual traditions and rituals that people cherish during the holidays that they are encouraged to skip this year, such as hosting large family gatherings, attending holiday parties and traveling to visit loved ones.


"Don't rule out sharing meals and activities using virtual technology. Staying connected is really important."


We asked Rabbi Sarah Barukh and Reverend Pam Lazor, chaplains in the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai, to offer their advice on how to navigate the holiday season, feel more hopeful and spend time doing what matters most to you during this time of year.



Find virtual and safe ways to connect

Sarah says most religious communities have found creative ways to offer services for members, including holding virtual (online) services or doing them outside.

Connecting virtually can be just as worthwhile as in-person gatherings.  

"I have a friend who calls her Jewish parents and they share in a Shabbat meal together every Friday," says Sarah. "Don't rule out sharing meals and activities using virtual technology. Staying connected is really important."

If there are religious or spiritual practices that have been beneficial to you, Sarah says this is the time to rely on and utilize them.

"Everyone's spirituality is different, but if there are practices or beliefs that have helped you in the past, continue to do them now," Sarah says. "If it's prayer, continue praying. If it's gratitude practices or acts of loving kindness, keep doing that."



Honor your feelings of sadness or grief

Sarah and her family have a metaphorical "COVID-19 loss bucket" where they acknowledge what they may have lost or been missing out on this year due to the pandemic. She knows others who have started writing down their own losses on pieces of paper to drop in a shoebox. This practice is one way to process feelings of grief.

"There are so many cumulative losses as the result of the pandemic, with the loss of life being the most significant," Sarah says.

"It's OK to not be OK right now. This reality that we're living in at the moment—it's not permanent."



Focus on the true meaning of the holiday season

The circumstances of the pandemic have led people to reassess their priorities and be more mindful of what's important to them, Pam says.

"The commercialism of the holiday season is a little less intense this year," Pam says. "This helps turn the focus back on what these holidays really mean. What is Thanksgiving really about? For me, as a Christian, what is Christmas really about?"

Pam advises to find ways to reconnect with what is most meaningful to you about the season—whether it be spiritual, personal or religious values and beliefs.



Slow down and spend time in nature

If you're normally a person who feels overwhelmed by the stress and expectations of the holidays, take time to slow down, be fully present and stay in the moment, Pam says.

"With my family, the fact that we're not going to do a big meal during the holidays this year gives me more time to focus on other ways to connect," she says. 

"There are actually a lot of people who are alone this time of year. Instead of preparing a big meal, I can reach out to them and say, 'How are you doing? I'm thinking about you.'"

For Sarah, being outside with her children has helped her savor the small moments.

"As a parent, the ability children have to be present and in the moment is a gift, " she says. "Spending time in nature allows us to tap into a sense of wonder that always exists, and is waiting for us to draw from."



Remember your resilience

If you're normally a person who feels overwhelmed by the stress and expectations of the holidays, take time to slow down, be fully present and stay in the moment, Pam says.

"With my family, the fact that we're not going to do a big meal during the holidays this year gives me more time to focus on other ways to connect," she says. 

"There are actually a lot of people who are alone this time of year. Instead of preparing a big meal, I can reach out to them and say, 'How are you doing? I'm thinking about you.'"

For Sarah, being outside with her children has helped her savor the small moments.

"As a parent, the ability children have to be present and in the moment is a gift, " she says. "Spending time in nature allows us to tap into a sense of wonder that always exists, and is waiting for us to draw from."