Celebrating festivals and occasions during the COVID-19 restrictions

Autumn is making way for winter.  The days are colder, the nights are longer and COVID-19 lockdown restrictions continue.

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

Marking special occasions during the pandemic

For many of us, this time of year is a time for finding joy in the planning and celebrating of various festivals and celebrations that bring families and friends together over the winter months. With varying levels of lockdown restrictions in place across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, it is safe to assume that this year’s celebrations will be very different to those in years gone by.   
 
For some of us, the formal parts of religious festivals may change – with Places of Worship operating to different rules. For others, the informal gatherings and family traditions that accompany times of celebration will be affected.  
 
We know that many people will be under the highest lockdown restrictions for Diwali on 14 November. It is very likely that there will still be tight restrictions on household gatherings throughout December, affecting people who wish to celebrate Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapti, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year.   
 
Most of the religious festivals at this time of year celebrate prosperity, hope and light – and it is important that we hold onto the meaning of these celebrations all the more if we cannot mark them in the way we might have in the past.  
 
Coping with the disappointment that you may not be able to mark an occasion in the usual way, particularly events which have special meaning, can be challenging. You may feel a range of emotions akin to grief and sadness, which is completely understandable. Accepting the reality of our situation without holding on to the hope that maybe things will return to ‘normal’ in time, can help. If you can reduce the gap between your expectations of the ‘perfect holiday’ and the reality of what’s possible, you can plan how to balance safety and celebration.   
 
We will have to be more creative in how we join in the festivities but, in years to come, talking about how we celebrated in 2020 may well become one of our most cherished memories – precisely because we were asked to strip back and focus on the meaning. 
 
Try and enjoy the festivities as much as you can
While it’s natural to want to be with your loved ones in person, ensuring they are as protected as possible from coronavirus may be the greatest gift you can give this year.  
 
Speak to your family and friends now to decide on alternative ways that you can mark a holiday. We all hope that by the time the occasion arrives that there will be some way of coming together, but the fact is that we don’t know. Making a loose plan is a good idea – but be prepared for it to change as well.  
 
Perhaps you’ll decide to gather via online video link to eat a meal together or play party games. Or perhaps you’ll choose to support a charitable organisation together, raise money or get involved in helping others in your community, subject to the rules in your area. This can create a sense of belonging and purpose, reducing feelings of isolation.   
 
Being kind and focusing on the good you can do can be a real boost to your mental wellbeing. Kindness matters, particularly now when people may be feeling the effect of lockdown restrictions more acutely. Even something simple like sending flowers or a letter about everything you like about the person and how grateful you are for them could really make a difference to someone’s day.  
 
Taking the time to do a good turn for someone else can also reduce your stress, improve your mood and increase happiness.   
 
Other pressures such as concerns about job and financial security, worries about the health of family and friends, or feeling low because you can’t be physically near people who are important to you, can often be heightened during the festive season. Similarly, if you are dealing with grief or bereavement, celebrations can be particularly challenging. 
 
If you are feeling down, talking to people can lighten your load. Likewise, if you notice that someone you care about is showing signs of distress, ask them how they are feeling and what they need.  
 
It’s good to keep in mind that while preparing a celebration can be a happy and exciting time for many, some people can feel under a lot of pressure to create the perfect experience for their loved ones. This can cause increased stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy which may be heightened this year with the additional barriers in place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extra demands of the season, try to balance your sense of obligation against your need for self-care.   
 
Going for a walk, doing something you enjoy or mindfulness techniques like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises can help.   
It is important to remember that not everybody has someone to celebrate with, and that some people may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. If you are alone and want others to connect with then Mind have a supportive online community called Side by Side that you can join. If you are experiencing loneliness you may want to read our page ‘Coping with loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic’. 

How to celebrate during the restrictions

  • Focus on kindness – try to divert your attention away from what you can’t have and instead focus on what kind things you can do for others and for yourself.
  • Be there for each other – try to have conversations with family and friends about how you’re feeling, listen to how others are coping and act with empathy and understanding.
  • Take time to be grateful - appreciate the joyful little moments. Reflecting on all you have to be grateful for can really lift your mood. 
  • Gift giving – if you feel the need to buy more gifts than usual – perhaps to compensate for celebrations being different this year – remember that this is a normal feeling, but not something you need to do. We’re all in this together and you and your gifts are enough. You don’t need to compensate for things beyond your control. If money is tight this year, remember not to stretch beyond your means and consider doing something creative or thoughtful rather than spending more money. 
  • Be aware of overindulging - regardless of whether we can have large celebrations or not, it’s important to keep an eye on what you’re drinking, eating and spending. Some people may turn to alcohol, food, shopping and illegal drugs to help cope with stress. 
  • Celebrating with children - why not start a ‘living history’ scrapbooking project to commemorate how you celebrated in 2020?  Explain that in years to come this will be an important document of how we lived. Similarly, older children and adults may want to journal their thoughts and feelings at this time. Additionally, this may be a time your children usually get together with cousins or their friends. You could try to keep them connected through video calls, so they feel included. 
  • Do something different - this year you could let someone you know that you’re thinking of them with a heartfelt, handwritten note. If you can’t buy stamps or get to the post office, you could always send a digital card through social media or email, through companies like SmileBox or Paperless Post. 
  • Maintain traditions – you could try to stick to the traditions that you have in place. Whether it’s making a particular meal, or decorating your home on a certain day, by maintaining these traditions you can create a sense of normality.
  • Stick to the rules - if you’re feeling under pressure from friends or family to break the rules, remember why we are in lockdown. It is for the safety of everyone, including ourselves, to stick to government guidelines. By following the rules, we all contribute to a healthier society. Keep up to date with guidelines in your area: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.

Further help and information:

  • Samaritans – is available 24/7 for free on 116 123 (UK) and whatever you’re going through they’re here to face it with you.
  • Step Change – is a charity that provides free, impartial debt advice over the phone. Call them on 0800 138 1111.
  • BEAT – is the UK’s eating disorders charity. They have a helpline available 365 days of the year, 9am – 8pm Mon to Fri and 4pm – 8pm on weekends and bank holidays. Call them on 0808 801 0677 (UK).
  • Talk to Frank - provides free practical drug advice, You can call Talk to Frank's helpline on 0300 123 6600 (UK) or text them on 82111 (UK), they're available 24/7.
  • Drink Aware - provides advice, information and support on drinking and alcohol misuse. They have a free, confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's. Call them on 0300 123 1110 (UK) weekdays 9am to 8pm and weekends 11am to 4pm.