A family sits at a dining table together and shares a Thanksgiving meal.
Holiday gatherings needn’t be fraught with anxiety and stress. A few precautions and candid questions ahead of time can set your mind at ease. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

As you gear up for the season’s festivities, you might find yourself wrestling with conflicting feelings about family gatherings and spending time around friends and others.

There are healthy, productive ways to ask about vaccination status, organize gatherings and tend to other variables amid the rigors of a pandemic.

Spectrum Health adult infectious disease expert Liam Sullivan, DO, and clinical psychologist Lyndsay Volpe-Bertram, PsyD, shared their top nine tips for navigating the holidays during COVID-19.

Consider your personal limits

Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Volpe-Bertram suggest asking yourself some questions: What is your comfort level in gathering with others? Is anyone in your household in a high-risk health category? Are you willing to travel? Do you want people in your home?

It’s important you know the answers to these questions ahead of time. This applies not just to you, but to those in your household, too, as you need to consider their personal limits.

Gather information

Talk to family members about how they have been responding to the pandemic, the doctors said. Are they social distancing and wearing masks? Find out what strategies they have been using.

Ask about vaccination status

Asking about vaccination status can feel awkward, but it’s an important piece of information that may affect your gathering.

Start by disclosing your own status and then give a brief explanation of why you are asking, the doctors said. An example: “My partner, myself, and my 7-year-old are vaccinated. Our 3-year-old is not able to be yet. Would you mind letting us know if your household is? We are trying to make safe decisions for ourselves and others.”

If it feels like the conversation takes a tense turn, thank the other person for the information they have shared and ask to end the discussion, the doctors said. You can always consider a time to return to the discussion later.

Agree on the rules

If you decide to go through with a family event, consider asking your group to follow agreed-upon guidelines. For example, everyone should limit their social interactions for several days before the event, or everyone should remain masked at certain times.

Have an open and honest discussion about the importance of communicating and canceling if someone is ill, the doctors said.

Know your condition

If you want to gather with friends and family but you’re feeling ill in any way, it’s best to stay away from others and get tested.


When gathering groups in a place where ventilation is poor, consider ways to improve air circulation and ventilation, such as using portable HEPA filters and opening windows. Use caution with fans as they can sometimes just recirculate air rather than increase actual ventilation.

Keep it in perspective

This has been an unusual year with a lot of uncertainty. The guidelines are frequently changing and, while this year’s holidays may also be unusual, that doesn’t mean things will always be this way, the doctors said.

Challenge your assumptions

You might be worried that your family will be angry or upset with you, or you might anticipate missing out if you decide not to participate. We usually assume the worst and may be surprised when these conversations or situations go better than anticipated, the doctors said.

Recognize emotions

Allow yourself and others the opportunity to experience emotions in a healthy way. There may be some losses and changes this year that are disappointing.

It’s OK to own this and say, “I’m really going to miss spending time with you and I’m sad that we can’t celebrate the way we normally would,” the doctors said.