Whether you're celebrating in person or virtually, make sure Grandma and Grandpa can participate.

By Nashia Baker
November 02, 2020
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webcam chat with grandma on christmas morning
Credit: Getty / RichLegg

Determining how to celebrate the holidays safely is top of mind this year—and this is especially true if you usually gather with Grandma and Grandpa. In the context of COVID-19, grandparents are in a more vulnerable age bracket, particularly if they are over the age of 85, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is an unfortunate and scary reality, one that has many families pivoting their holiday parties toward immediate-family only or virtual ones, instead, to protect their elders.

These pivots shouldn't exclude your parents—they can absolutely participate meaningfully, so long as you plan accordingly. "This year, while gatherings may look different, we want to be able to create new traditions that connect us and heal some of the lingering effects of isolation," notes Nicole Johnson, the creator and chief gathering officer at Our Gathering. These new traditions and virtual options are the best alternatives to ensure families celebrate the season as a unit. The only thing that changes is the distance. "We find that families over long distances use the asynchronous video to see smiling faces, break bread with one another, and continue traditions when they otherwise can't be together," adds Vlada Bortnik, the CEO and founder of Marco Polo. "It's particularly important for our older generations to find stress-free solutions to feel connected." Ahead, our experts explore ways to create new holiday traditions with your grandparents, whether you are celebrating carefully in person or virtually.

Prepare in Advance for In-Person Gatherings

Before you gather during the holidays, prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Johnson says to put keeping track of everyone's health at the top of the priority list. "We can all start by creating an electronic contact tracing list within our family," she shares. "Easily track contacts at your gathering and who you have encountered before this event. Retracing your steps will be easy and a great way to inform your family if anyone at the get-together tests positive." She adds that anyone attending in-person festivities should wash their hands, wear masks, have their temperatures checked once they arrive, and keep a distance of six feet from others outside of their immediate family unit.

Create New In-Person Traditions

To make this holiday season safe and fun for grandparents and all of your loved ones, try hosting an in-person retreat. "Those in warmer areas, consider outdoor activities," Johnson says. "Bonfires assembled safely and correctly allow you to enjoy the crisp air, roast s'mores with the kids, and create a space for engaging conversation with a warm drink in hand." Don't be afraid to step outside of the box if outdoor activities aren't an option. "Let's say you need more space to allow for social distancing. Contact a clubhouse to see if they are allowing room rentals. Having a larger room will allow everyone to spread out and still have time together," Johnson says. "Need even more space? Rent a room at the movie theater! Grab some popcorn and watch your favorite holiday film with your friends and family—socially distanced, of course."

Try Out a Virtual Get-Together

"Many grandparents in the same neighborhoods as their grandkids can't be together due to the risks of COVID-19," Bortnik says. Since there are more chances to be exposed to the virus, opting for a video conferencing app, like Marco Polo, could be the simplest way to make sure everyone is still involved this holiday season. This way, you can create special moments by chatting or leaving a festive message for grandparents without the stress of them leaving the comfort (and safety) of their homes.

Create New Virtual Traditions

Even if your festivities need to take place online, the opportunities for fun with your grandparents are endless. Start by reinventing family mealtime so you can spend time around the (virtual) table. "Organize your online family dinner by creating pre-cooked meals with heating instructions to be delivered or mail to your loved ones. With the instructions, you would also include a date, time, and link where the online meal would take place," Johnson says. "Encourage everyone to treat it just like you were getting together in person and have a good time!" Or, instead of delivering baked goods, you can choose a family recipe (perhaps one that Grandma or Grandpa created!) that everyone can bake from their homes, the entertaining expert adds. Just send a virtual invitation that includes the ingredient list and directions—then everyone can join in and try out those sacred recipes passed down from generations.

Your online activities can also extend to other games or activities, like "gift exchanges, tree decorating contests, or candle lighting rituals, even in different time zones," Bortnik adds. Reading a favorite holiday story, singing carols, putting on a play—all are still possible from afar. "These are things that maybe we sometimes take for granted but are very much cherished by grandparents who don't get to spend as much time with their grandchildren," Bortnik adds. Simply remember that less can be more when planning your festivities—as long as your loved ones are cared for in the process. "If nothing else, call and make sure your older family members have what they need and spend a few extra minutes with them (virtually or in person)," Johnson says. "This holiday season, we are spreading more love and fewer germs."

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