Make the Most of a Socially Distant Holiday Season

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by Christie Patient |

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Even in normal times, holidays can be a huge vector for illness. Viruses that thrive during the colder months, such as influenza, can cause serious problems for those with compromised immune systems or poor pulmonary function.

This year, with the novel coronavirus, the risk is much higher. Unless we can guarantee a COVID-19-free gathering by testing and quarantining, those of us in the PF community should not gather with loved ones for the holidays.

Being steadfast in your decision to stay home for the holidays is going to hurt. There is no way around that. Family and friends who aren’t in your immediate circle likely can’t comprehend the real consequences of getting sick with PF or transplanted lungs. They might pressure you or inadvertently make you feel bad for saying no. Even if it is unintentional, peer pressure might weaken your resolve. 

If you find yourself bending to suggestion, thinking that maybe you can get away with having Thanksgiving dinner together, I urge you to think about what may result from sharing a table with an asymptomatic person. The risk is not worth the reward. 

Even before the pandemic, my family was taking precautions to protect my mom, Holly, from seasonal illness. My mom received a double-lung transplant in March 2019 and returned home to recover in June. By the holiday season, she was doing well enough that we made big plans for Christmas. Despite her resilience, the risk of infection and other complications is highest within the first year after transplant. We weren’t going to take any chances.

We planned a family gathering in Washington state. There would be nine guests for Christmas. When the day came, we had to deny someone a seat at the table on Christmas Eve because they came down with a cold. It was hard to say no, but we promised to make it up a few weeks later. The risk was too high. This year, there is no table. Everyone is as much a suspect for contagion as that person was in regular times.

As tough as it will be, staying home for the holidays does not have to be isolating. I have come up with some ideas to ease the sting of a socially distant holiday season, and to keep the holiday spirit alive.

Share recipes

A big part of Thanksgiving and December holidays is sharing traditional fare, often made from old family recipes. For me, Thanksgiving just isn’t right without my grandma’s recipe for creamed pearl onions, or my mom’s zesty cranberry orange relish.

I’ve never endeavored to make either of those things, but spending Thanksgiving at home gives me the perfect excuse to learn. And since we live in the age of technology, I can chat with my mom over Skype and hear family stories while I am learning the recipes of my matriarchs.

Learning my husband’s family recipes could also give us a good opportunity to bond in the kitchen, and create a blended traditional feast to carry on for our kids someday.

Continue traditions

Some holiday traditions you can safely do at a distance, or even over video chat. One thing my family always does the weekend after Thanksgiving is to go out Christmas tree hunting. If you go with a group, taking separate cars may not be fuel-efficient, but it does ensure personal space boundaries are respected. Once you arrive at the tree-cutting area, it should be easy to explore the forest at a safe distance from others. And wearing a thick face mask might help keep you warm in addition to blocking respiratory droplets.

Secret Santa mail

If your family enjoys giving gifts during the holidays, you could set up a postal secret Santa. Instead of sending many gifts to your family members, everyone could focus on giving a special gift to one person to cut down on shipping costs. Add everyone’s names into a hat and draw at random. Keep it secret if you want an added layer of Santa magic!

Send cards

If you’ve never been much of a Christmas card person, maybe 2020 is the year to start. Some people send cards every year. If that’s you, you might challenge yourself to go above and beyond this year.

You could get creative with a Christmas letter — write an epic roundup of everything you’ve done and learned in the past year, a short play, or try your hand at poetry. You could give yourself a real challenge and turn each Christmas card into a unique art piece. My mom is painting watercolor postcards. It is keeping her occupied and is a nice distraction from the lack of social interaction.

What are your ideas for staying safe while having fun this holiday season? Please share in the comments below. 


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Catherine Berntsen avatar

Catherine Berntsen

Family will be doing a "pass by" for Thanksgiving. I have chocolate turkeys for the grandkids and I am baking pies for them to take with them.

Christie Patient avatar

Christie Patient

I love that idea! Sounds like you borrowed inspiration from Easter traditions with the turkeys :) I bet everyone will appreciate a home baked pie, and it will make them feel like you are sharing a meal. Very special.


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