If you are like me, you love hosting celebrations at home; one of your favorite hobbies is bringing people together. Unfortunately, not only have we not been able to do our favorite hobby for several months due to the COVID pandemic, but we also are realizing the coming holiday season (the most opportune time for our hobby) is going to be different. Thankfully not all is lost! Most of the wonderful similarities remain: yummy food (Gotta try those new recipes found on Pinterest!), the laughter & joy that warms households all around, and those “gentle” family discussions about politics. But the changes this year will be clear and very evident at gatherings. 2020’s holiday season is a landmark holiday season, likely becoming known as the first of the new gathering reality to come. For a living, I plan events. My team has spent days preparing very thorough “preparedness plans” for our in person events held around the state and Twin Cities. I’ve modified our preparedness plan to fit that of your home. I hope this list will bring you healthy holiday gatherings in 2020.

Pre-Planning Your Event

How Many People Should You Invite?

This year your usual large family gathering may not be possible when following CDC guidelines (https://www.cdc.gov/) on the number of people that should gather in one place. Be respectful and communicate early to any family members if they won’t be invited so they will be able to make alternate plans. If you feel comfortable with technology, add a hybrid-portion to the event where any/all members of the family can join in by video. A holiday-zoom-chat for all can appease the folks that want to have the more traditional holiday large gathering this year.

Seating Arrangements

Maybe don’t add the leaves to your dining room table extension this year. Think smaller family-groups or packs. Rather than a huge table, bring out some card tables and place them in separate rooms. Also, if you find moments of craftiness prior to hosting, do deating arrangements. Possibly a little gift tag with their first name written on it attached to a pine cone above the place setting? This is a great way to add décor and make your guests feel comfortable that this is their seat for the evening.

Think Outside Your Traditional Gathering Routines

Think beyond the standard holiday gathering where we are all only here for the conversations and charcuterie. Maybe this 2020 holiday time together inspires a tradition for years to come? Use this holiday time to be creative with each other! I am looking forward to this holiday season as I am excited to implement the outdoors more than we have in the past.

Ideas: Invite guests to come with you outside for a a brisk holiday walk. Or if snow conditions allow, a good ole fashion snowball fight or snow person making contest. Could you use this opportunity to have an outdoor family photoshoot and have some fun with it? Maybe your holiday gathering is not at your house but meeting at a community ice rink which feels festive, fun, and a way to enjoy the outdoors. If games are a part of your family-traditions and you don’t feel comfortable with the community-game-piece concept that comes with most board games, do some socially distanced minute-to-win-it games.

Clear Communication with Guests Before the Event

Letting guests know what considerations and steps you are taking to host a healthy holiday gathering not only puts them at ease, but it also sets guidelines and your expectations of them. 

Wear Masks or Not Wear Masks?

This can vary depending on the size of your gathering and your guest’s comfort-level. The best way to implement whatever you would like the standard to be at your house for mask-wearing, is for you to do it yourself first. I wore a mask at an event I was hosting, and my guests followed suit and put on masks when they saw me. This is not to say that if you don’t wear a mask that a guest won’t want to keep theirs on as much as possible. Be clear with those you invite about your wishes for mask-wear, and any other key items that you will be implementing due to the environment of the times. 

Share a Few Safety Protocols in Your Invite

Most people don’t want to read a page of safety protocols, and while my preparedness plans with large corporate events are several pages long (and your holiday party preparedness plan may be that elaborate too) you don’t have to share all that in your email invite. A couple bullet points of your plans and expectations will suffice.

Encourage Guests to Cancel Last-Minute

A family member wakes up the day-of-your-event with a sore throat. Oh no! What to do? Often the guest feels commitment guilt. Meaning they RSVP’d yes, so they should still go right? No. Wrong. Indicate in your communications to guests that if they are feeling any symptoms they should feel comfortable with staying home and that you are okay with it. While no one wants to miss out on wonderful family memories you should ask those that have any symptoms to stay at home. We all know winter seasons come with head-colds and maybe even the flu. With any symptom we feel these days comes that first question of “is it coronavirus?” and even if it isn’t, we lock down more than we ever have. This is not only okay, it’s encouraged.

What If YOU Have to Cancel?

When planning, consider what happens if you or someone from your household is feeling unwell. If the event arises where you need to cancel on guests last minute, be mindful. Direct phone calls are always a must with a short term cancelation so make sure you have the best phone number for everyone planning to come.

During Your Event 

Make It Easy to Clean/Sanitize Hands

While Christmas stockings are sure to be filled with the hilarity of hand sanitizer, toilet paper and a fashionable new protective mask, all of those items should be a part of your household’s holiday inventory.

Ideas: Place hand sanitizer in easily-accessed areas and in areas that make sense. Even though it may ruin the centerpiece aesthetics, it is important to have in on your dining tables. Add to your end tables and have one conveniently close to entrances/exits.We all are washing hands more than we ever have, so remove all hand towels from bathrooms and put disposable hand towels in their place. I’ve seen holiday-inspired disposable hand towels that add some flair and cleanliness to bathrooms and kitchens. 

A healthy holiday celebration is a great way to commiserate the challenging times brought to us 2020. This season is more than just being merry, be mindful, be respectful, be gracious and be understanding.

Elizabeth Sherry