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How to Host a COVID-Friendly Christmas

Two twin girls opening gifts with their grandparents at home for Christmas, wearing a protective face mask and maintaining social distancing
Ivan Pantic/ Getty Images

This year has been one of incredible uncertainty and change thanks to the global pandemic, and the 2020 holidays are no exception. If you’re planning on hosting Christmas this year, be sure to review the CDC Christmas recommendations. Also explore some tips for a safe holiday season no matter how or who you celebrate with.

What are the CDC’s guidelines on Christmas celebrations?

The CDC Christmas recommendations are designed to keep families safe while still celebrating a happy holiday season this year. So is Christmas allowed? Well, the federal government has not banned small gatherings, although your individual state may have its own restrictions. Instead, the CDC recommends looking at your community’s COVID-19 infection rates to determine the risk involved with a group gathering.


The CDC recommends outdoor gatherings over indoor ones. Also try to limit direct contact with people who don’t live in the same household as you — so no hugs if you can avoid it. If you do plan to host a gathering indoors, increase ventilation by opening windows or keeping your HVAC on circulation mode. Social distancing guidelines should be observed whether you’re indoors or out. The same holds true for wearing masks, which should be worn anytime you’re not eating or drinking.

10 ways to have a safe Christmas celebration during COVID-19

Tip 1: Make it a BYO celebration

The CDC warns against potlucks and sharing food. If you’re hosting a group gathering, encourage each household to bring their own picnic-style food and beverage to avoid handling each other’s food. This also makes it easier on the host to handle any food allergies or intolerances.

Tip 2: Bring back the Yule Log

An outdoor gathering in December may be cold depending on where you live. Cozy up outside around a fire pit and add a Yule log for a new festive element. This European tradition involves decorating a special piece of wood to go on top of the fire. Gather natural elements such as pine needles, dried berries and cinnamon sticks to wrap around the log with natural string to create new memories with family or friends outside while still keeping warm.

Rather than hosting an in-person cookie swap during the 2020 holidays, consider mailing cookies to your usual guests. You can then meet virtually and unwrap an array of packages. Be sure to choose recipes that will hold up well in the mail. Also get creative with wrapping and packaging for a truly festive delivery to your friends.

Tip 4: Make hand sanitizer fun

The CDC’s Christmas recommendations include frequent hand washing or hand sanitizing. Make this extra precaution part of the celebration by including miniature bottles of hand sanitizer as a gift for guests. Get bonus points for choosing seasonal scents, like peppermint or cinnamon.

Tip 5: Keep your celebrations to local guests

According to the CDC, there’s lower risk of spreading COVID-19 if you stick to people who live in your community. Even if your family lives out of town, you can create a new family among your neighbors and remain within a moderate level of risk.

Tip 6: Organize a Christmas car parade

For a truly socially distanced event, consider a car decorating contest. Entrants can go all out with tacky decorations, then drive slowly through the neighborhood. This is also a great option to get together with friends outside of your immediate area, such as acquaintances from school or church.

Tip 7: Add an element of giving to your gathering

It’s no secret that the pandemic has caused unprecedented economic hardship on families across the country. If you do host a gathering, remember it’s the season of giving. Instead of a hostess gift, ask guests to bring a donation to a local food pantry or other organization in need. Place a drop box so people can simply drop in their contribution for a completely contactless way of helping those in need.

Tip 8: Host an outdoor movie night

It may not be safe to have friends and family pile into your living room for a Christmas movie marathon this year. But everyone can bring lawn chairs and blankets and enjoy a movie outside together. This is a great time of year for younger children to enjoy the event as well, since it gets dark much earlier than summer months.

Tip 9: Try other socially distanced activities

Whether you’re hosting a gathering indoors or out, the CDC recommends maintaining a six-foot distance between anyone not in your household in addition to wearing masks. Get creative with your party activities to keep space between your guests. Try charades, trivia games or bingo. You could also set up a festive photo booth, which is a great way to utilize masks.

Tip 10: Host a 2020 ornament contest

Encourage your friends and family to create their own version of a 2020 Christmas ornament. Whether it’s a masked Santa or the year burning in a fireplace, this creative exercise can be done either virtually or socially distanced. Participants can vote on their favorite one to take some of the edge off of a truly unprecedented year.

If you’re quarantining or can’t travel, here’s how to celebrate Christmas without family:

Tip 1: Send snail mail

It’s not easy missing family during the holidays. But sending snail mail, whether gift packages or simply handwritten letters, provides a cathartic and tactile experience for both you and the recipient. You’ll stretch your creative muscles and also provide an uplifting moment to others you know who are spending Christmas alone this year.

Tip 2: Try new recipes

Just because you’re celebrating alone doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself. Challenge yourself to try a new recipe or two that you wouldn’t normally take the time to prepare. Think outside the box with a classic dish like British mince pies or go for a sweet option with an over-the-top gingerbread house.

Tip 3: Get outside

While you may not be able to celebrate in a group setting, make a conscious effort to get outside. Sunshine is proven to help boost moods, especially in cold winter months. Take regular walks and find ways to connect to nature and even other people at a distance.

Tip 4: Don’t forego decorations

You may not feel like going all out on Christmas decorations if you’re by yourself this year. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create any type of festive atmosphere at home. Choose one area in which you spend the most time, like your living room or kitchen. Then select a few key elements to incorporate, such as a small tree, wreath or centerpiece. With just a minimal amount of effort, you can still feel the holiday spirit without making a huge effort to set up or take down your decorations.

The bottom line

Most Americans will likely face a different kind of Christmas this year. But by following CDC guidelines and getting creative, you can enjoy the spirit of the season without sacrificing the long-term health of your friends, family and community healthcare workers.

Frequently asked questions


Is it safe to celebrate Christmas during COVID-19?


The gathering with the lowest type of risk involves immediate family members who are taking the same precautions as you. If you want to host a big Christmas get together with friends and family, you’ll need to tweak the scenario. Host it outside, maintain six-feet social distancing, have hand sanitizer at the ready and encourage everyone to wear an N95 mask.


How can I know if I have had COVID-19 recently?


Get tested. You can’t rely on symptoms, as many people are asymptomatic. The safest way to know is to get tested, but also understand that accuracy is not guaranteed.


How long after exposure do you develop symptoms for COVID-19?


Within 14 days. There have been many cases of people being symptom-free for a whole two weeks before showing any signs of COVID-19.


Can I spread COVID-19 if I have no symptoms?


Yes, you can spread COVID-19 to other people even if you don’t feel sick.

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