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Your Guide to Safe and Festive Celebrations During COVID-19

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The holidays are finally upon us, with all the traditions and merriment so many look forward to. Except, this year, one uninvited guest is crashing the party.

Americans are still planning festive celebrations this year, despite the threat of COVID-19 still looming large. They are just getting more creative about celebrating safely with fewer people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cautioning that the best way to protect yourself and prevent further spread of COVID-19 cases is to stay home this holiday season and avoid travel. And people seem to be listening.

Social gatherings and holiday travel is expected to decline by 34% this year, according to the 2020 Deloitte holiday retail survey. Many are citing concern for higher risk family members or fear of rising coronavirus cases. But holiday gift-giving is still very much in the plan — 42% of people surveyed by the National Retail Federation say they planned to start holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

Americans are expected to spend $997.79 on holiday gifts, food, and decorations this year, only about $50 less than last year. That dip, the National Retail Federation says, is because shoppers say they will be focusing on other people rather than buying extras for themselves.

Small Gatherings With Immediate Family

Danny and Kim Williams will be spending Christmas with their children in Seattle, but not the large indoor gathering with extended family they look forward to seeing each year, including Kim’s mother. 

“It simply isn’t feasible this year,” Danny Williams said. “Older adults and other high-risk family members simply cannot be endangered needlessly.”

This year’s holiday celebrations will be more of a laid-back affair, he said, with “cozy fireplace time” and a holiday movie marathon.

“We’re skipping out on gathering with family, but will still put up the tree and cook all our holiday favorites,” said LaKetra Luckett, a Louisiana mom of three children under the age of 8, including an infant. “The newbie is too little for a face mask and I don’t want to get him sick.”

They are also making a point to pay it forward this season.

“We’ve been fortunate through all the craziness,” said Luckett, “so we’re in the process of finding a few families in need to sponsor for the holidays.”

Alternatives to in-person gatherings 

  • Send out more holiday cards than usual. Viktoria Yuravich of Connecticut said she plans to send cards to her co-workers she hasn’t seen in person in several months.
  • Make the most of Zoom or FaceTime holiday gatherings. You don’t have to just sit and chat — make it fun! Host an online trivia night with everyone wearing ugly sweaters or festive pajamas. Eat a holiday dinner together online. Let kids open Hanukkah presents together.
  • If you have extended family close by, host a short, outdoor gathering even if it’s cold outside. Get together with some heated blankets and hot chocolate, and roast some marshmallows around a firepit. Or have a small outdoor dinner. Just maintain social distancing guidelines by staying 6 feet apart and wearings masks.

Black Friday Still Reigns Supreme, But With Safety Measures

One of the busiest shopping seasons is still on, with a few changes for both retailers and shoppers to avoid close contact.

Black Friday has been steadily shape-shifting for years, but this year many large retailers have already started their Black Friday deals to get a jump on sales, knowing many people will want to shop from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and many others have already started rolling out major sales under the Black Friday label, both online and in stores. 

Shoppers in the Deloitte survey said they are planning to use home delivery (73%) and curbside pick up (27%) to stay out of crowded stores. If you do use curbside pickup, remember to use safety precautions like wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer, or wash your hands, when returning home to lower your risk of infection.

For Williams and his teenage daughter, this will mean a shift in their holiday shopping traditions.

“My daughter loves to go to the stores on Black Friday. She loves the festive and energetic atmosphere. The excitement really brings her into the holiday spirit,” he said. “I told her it will have to all be online. She’s disappointed, but having already gotten a positive test result and recovered from COVID, she’s well aware of why we need to distance and be safe.”

Black Friday tips

  • Let technology be your guide. Scan sites like Brad’s Deals or to track prices and find the best deals.
  • Score free money and gift cards by shopping for gifts through cashback apps like Ibotta or Swagbucks
  • Don’t feel guilty about cutting back. This has been a tough year with layoffs, furloughs, and massive economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only buy what you can afford.

New Traditions to Keep Spirits Up

Shannon Bolin-Elfers is keeping the Christmas magic alive and well for her two young children, despite their many favorite local events being canceled this year near their New Orleans-area home.

“We won’t be attending as many Christmas events unless they are drive-through such as [New Orleans’] City Park and the local neighborhoods,” she said. “We always go for a New Year’s Day hike. We are looking at different areas that are open right now.” 

They did, however, get their decorations up early, starting just a couple of days after Halloween.

“I typically wait until the day after Thanksgiving,” she said. “[My] husband and kids are in the mood for holiday cheer, so that’s what they’ll get.”

Grace Hanley, who lives in the Boston area, is also switching things up this year and participating in two gift exchanges, including one organized on social media with people she’s never met.

“One is organized by listeners of a podcast I subscribe to, via a Facebook group and using Elfster to connect secret Santas. Everyone participating is a stranger to me,” she said. “It feels nice to broaden the giving beyond those I’d normally celebrate with every year.”

The other gift exchange is a family and friends swap organized by Hanley’s sister. She plans to shop entirely online through Amazon and Etsy. 

Lower-risk holiday traditions to start this year

  • Walk or drive around your neighborhood to check out the lights on display. So people pull out all the stops and even set their lights to a playlist you can find online.
  • Get a little extra this year when it comes to decorating for Hanukkah. You can lean into your inner Martha Stewart (check out this DIY slideshow) or get crafty with your children to create a kid-friendly menorah
  • If you love to go Christmas caroling, send online caroling videos this year. You can even use Zoom to make a group recording
  • Get outside no matter how cold it is! If you normally do a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving you can still sign up for a virtual road race that you can run around your neighborhood or on the treadmill. Go for a hike, hop on your bike, or just walk around your neighborhood. 

However you choose to celebrate this year, those of us at Earnest wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.