People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

How to tell family their Christmas gathering is too risky and you’re not going

Dr. Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

We see it in movies and hear it in songs: protagonists overcoming obstacles of all kinds to reach their goal of being home for the holidays.

The pressure to attend family events isn’t new. But during a global pandemic — with COVID-19 cases rising and public health officials urging against indoor gatherings — there’s a lot more risk attached to our normal traditions this year.

Telling loved ones we don’t want to attend holiday gatherings can be tricky —there might be hurt feelings on their end, and guilt on ours.

But Dr. Nancy Hurst, an Edmonton-based psychologist, says those conversations are needed in the coming weeks as we deal with “the pandemic that stole Christmas.”

“It’s already tough (to miss gatherings), but it’s especially tough at Christmas because we have so many expectations,” Hurst said.

“And if you have people with different perspective on COVID — those who feel strongly that it’s not safe to gather, and others who feel it’s Christmas and we should make an exception — it’s going to be even tougher to say no.”

Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

More stubborn family members may require extra explanation, but Hurst says it’s best not to get defensive.

“You don’t need to justify your perspective,” she said. “If you say: ‘I don’t feel safe, I still care for you, I look forward to having that spring get-together,’ the relationship is likely strong enough to endure that.”

Dr. Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto, says a tough conversation about holiday plans may be easier to digest if it’s presented as a postponement rather than a cancellation.

Promising news of COVID vaccine trials this month could soften the blow by convincing people the pandemic is nearing an end, he said.

In the meantime though, this holiday season could present a “terrible dilemma.”

“People have legitimate concerns about their physical safety, but they want to see their family, and they’re probably feeling quite lonely,” he said. “So you have a scenario where you need that social connection and you can’t have it.”

McIntyre says it will be easier to talk about altered holiday plans if it’s presented as a collective idea. And if the entire family lives in a COVID hotspot like Toronto, for example, it might be easier to convince everyone to adhere to local public health guidance.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged residents on Wednesday to celebrate the holidays only with those in their own households, while Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced last week a plan that would give his province a mini-reprieve from restrictions by allowing gatherings of 10 over four days.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, meanwhile, encouraged residents on Tuesday to find alternatives to in-person gatherings.

Regional differences in the levels of COVID risk only complicate the situation, McIntyre says. If the prevalence of the virus is low where the gathering is happening, some family members may not understand the hesitation of others to attend.

Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Calgary, says travel during the holiday season is what’s worrying her most.

“At this point in time, there are no safe (in-person) Christmas gatherings,” she said. “There is risk in being physically in the same room with family members who are not in your usual cohort. … And the bottom line is that it really takes one person to start an outbreak.”

While experts have been saying for months that indoor gatherings can be dangerous, Dr. Esther Greenglass, a psychology professor at York University, says it might be hard to remind family members of that when it comes to a significant holiday like Christmas.

READ MORE: Christmas will be different even if Santa is ‘probably’ immune to COVID, says B.C. top doctor

Getting together to socialize and share a meal with loved ones can be an “emotional experience,” she said, and after eight months of pandemic-related restrictions, some are just tired of following the rules.

Hurt feelings can arise when families decide to go through with gatherings, leaving those who objected out of the mix, she added.

“If people don’t get it, you have no control over it, but you don’t have to take it personally,” Greenglass said. “And that’s the hardest part, not to see this as a personal rejection.”

While the holiday season can be tough for many people even without a pandemic, McIntyre says the added isolation of this year has him particularly worried.

He suggests we make more of an effort to keep connections open in order to fight off loneliness and “find our sense of human meaningfulness, which is being threatened like nothing else right now.”

He also stressed that professional help is available during the pandemic to those struggling with serious mental health concerns.

Greenglass says those who can should embrace creative, virtual options for holiday gatherings, and suggested making Zoom dinners more personal by sharing food and drink recipes beforehand, or dropping off pre-made dinner portions on porch steps.

“That lets people know you’re not rejecting them, that you want to see them, and that you’ve thought enough about it to come up with alternatives,” she said.

“COVID doesn’t have to be the Grinch that stole Christmas.”

READ MORE: Top doctor urges Canadians to plan safe holidays as new COVID cases continue to rise

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

ChristmasCoronavirusHolidays

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bella Coola’s new WildSafeBC co-ordinator, Rae Kokeš, has spent the last 10 years in Africa working in lion, human, conflict, and is a wildlife biologist by trade. (Photo submitted)
From the savannas of Africa to the Bella Coola Valley

New Wildsafe BC coordinator ready to tackle wildlife conflict

Bella Coola Valley Ridge Riders Horse Club board member Annika Granander watches, and participates in the gymkhana Sunday (Photo submitted)
Sunshine and smiles all around Bella Coola Ridge Riders Horse Club gymkhana

The event was the first of the year, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place

A build up of lint in a clothes dryer is believed to have caused a house fire in Alexis Creek Sunday evening, April 4, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Clothing dryer suspected cause of Alexis Creek home fire, owner wants to warn others

Neil Miller is thankful he still has his horses, community support and his life

This will be the second year the Bella Coola Valley Rodeo won’t take place due to the pandemic. (Michael Wigle file photo)
Bella Coola Valley Rodeo cancelled for 2021

Club organizers say next year’s rodeo will be bigger and better than ever

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Most Read