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4 tips for having those tough conversations about holiday gatherings amid COVID-19
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Devin Vicknair, a behavioral health specialist with NGHS, shares four ways to approach holiday celebrations with loved ones. - photo by Kelsey Podo

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Putting traditions like secret Santa swaps or white elephant gift exchanges on hold may prove challenging this holiday season, but as we all know, this year is different.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend large gatherings, and you might not feel comfortable or safe sharing meals or cozying up around the fireplace with your family. However, that doesn't make it any easier to turn down celebrations with those you care about.

Whether you plan to have that tough phone call with your loved ones, or are gearing up for a lively celebration, here are some tips for approaching the holiday season. 

The Times spoke with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Family Medicine’s Devin Vicknair, who has a doctorate in clinical/health psychology, to shed some light on the topic.

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Express the difficulty of the decision

We get it. You love your family and friends. Declining invitations for the holidays can prove painful and may even offend the people you care about. 

Vicknair, a behavioral health specialist with more than 24 years experience in the health care industry, encourages people who don’t feel comfortable or safe attending a gathering to reconnect with those joining in the celebration. He recommends respectfully telling them that you don’t want them to fall ill or be on the receiving end and reminding them that this is a temporary choice for future possibilities.

“Let people know that it was a difficult decision to make, certainly not one with ease,” Vicknair said. “Tell them you put a lot of thought into what’s happening right now and would rather celebrate another time when this is more controlled and less prevalent.”

Get creative to include people

Friends of family can still be included in a celebration without attending physically. 

Vicknair recommends thinking outside the box and getting creative with your approach to a gathering. 

If the host asks people to bring food to a party you won’t be attending, drop off a dish at the door. If someone has opted to stay home, start a video chat with them and pass the phone around the room of people. 

For those who plan to meet with family or friends, Vicknair encourages them to wear a face covering — preferably surgical and N-95 masks — and congregate outdoors, if possible.

“Minimize the ... time in close proximity,” he said. “Maybe try to do a new greeting instead of face-to-face hugs. Some people do elbow-to-elbow or foot-to-foot, something to connect with people.”

Learn one another’s comfort levels

Not everyone is comfortable with the same type of interactions, and knowing where people stand can help limit confrontation or reduce awkwardness. 

Vicknair said people can be categorized by three traffic signals.

Some people are red, which he said means they prefer not to go into public or interact with people outside their household. Others are yellow, which he defines as those who still leave their homes, but try to minimize contact with most people. And, some people are green, meaning they aren’t as worried about contracting or spreading COVID-19 to others and may not be practicing protocols. 

“With a red and a green, there’s a lot of discomfort,” Vicknair said. “Talk about that. Make it a part of conversations to see where people are.”

Be respectful

Above all else, Vicknair encourages people to be respectful of others, no matter the level of COVID-19 precautions they take.

“People’s family dynamics don’t change overnight,” Vicknair said. “What’s been happening in a family or with friends will probably continue after this is all over. Bring up the conversation and be respectful of each other. Keep that in perspective when making decisions and having those difficult conversations.”

For more information about how to safely celebrate the holidays, visit