WEIGHING THE RISKS OF HOLIDAY FAMILY GATHERINGS

My three kids meandered along the stone path through the bushes, the same path where I used to go after choir practice as a kid. At the time, I remember it seemed like a secret garden, with its shaded pathways and worn stone sculptures hidden in the bushes.

My youngest daughter, age 5, climbed on a rock nearby with my 3-year-old nephew while I sat with my 89-year-old grandmother on a curved bench nearby, watching. While some of the trees are now gone, the garden is still shaded. The statues are still there, but more have more signs of wear than what I remembered.

We were in the garden for my infant nephew’s baptism. Like almost every child in the family before him, he was christened at the same Methodist church where so many other family members had been baptized as infants – me, my sister, her husband and their children. My nephew wore a 92-year-old gown embroidered with blue stitching – which was made for my grandfather when he was a baby, a dress that has been worn in the christening for at least five other babies since.

But as much as the christening was laced with tradition, there were a number of things that were different. It is, after all, 2020, and family gatherings aren’t quite the same this year.

Photo by August de Richelieu

Instead of having the baptism indoors during a normal church service, we gathered outside in the garden, in a private service instead. Everyone wore masks – even the children – because it was safer that way, especially with my grandmother in attendance. Instead of hugs, we coached our kids on giving their grandma and great-grandma “air hugs,” which was difficult when it was the first time we had seen my grandmother in person since Christmas last year. She was finally able to go outside of her assisted living, although with COVID cases rising, another shutdown on visitations will likely happen soon.

And instead of gathering at my mother’s home for a luncheon to celebrate the christening and also my grandmother’s birthday, we met at an outdoor park pavilion where we could space out safely to eat while still visiting. And while we would normally spend the night at my mom’s house and make a weekend trip, we drove up just for the afternoon.

No, 2020 is not like any other year.

With Thanksgiving around the corner and Christmas after that, families across the U.S. will likely have to make the same kind of decisions regarding family events and health concerns. With COVID cases going up nationwide, we all have to weigh whether time with extended family in person is worth the risk of possibly unknowingly spreading COVID among loved ones.

Photo by Gabby K

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t recommended canceling holiday gatherings altogether, but it has said that indoor gatherings can pose a higher risk than just celebrating with your immediate family.

“Thanksgiving is a time when many families travel long distances to celebrate together. Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” the CDC said.

While indoor gatherings pose a higher risk, so do longer gatherings, according to the CDC. While the CDC does not have “a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees,” they suggest keeping gatherings small. The CDC also recommends avoiding any self-serve food or drink options.

For many families, especially for people like us who do not have relatives in town, Thanksgiving and Christmas are among the few times each year when we get together with our parents, siblings, nephews and nieces in one location.

And yet this year, we must weigh the risks.

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