By Kara Pleasants
Without question, one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic has been the loss of physical connection between family and friends. We are faced with a long and hard winter ahead, and in most parts of the country it is not safe to gather indoors with people outside your immediate household.
Science has shown us that gathering with family outside, socially distanced, with masks, is a safe way to see people outside of your household and still protect those we love. We have an obligation to protect our loved ones, and it is possible to do so with planning and creativity. Here are some tips that have helped us protect those at risk.
If community transmission is out of control, wait and plan. At this moment, we are postponing gatherings even outside until it’s safer to meet, following our local health guidance. The wait is worth it, and looking forward to safely getting together really helps get you through.
The wait is worth it, and looking forward to safely getting together really helps get you through.
Keep Open Communication
To meet together, everyone has to be on the same page. Talk about the ground rules and number of guests. Remember that this is a difficult time, and your family members might be more or less comfortable with a particular activity. The more you are able to communicate in advance, the less stress.
Find the Right Space
Choose a location with enough space for your household groups to sit comfortably but at minimum 6, but ideally 10, feet apart. We used a combination of picnic tables and folding tables for our events. You can even arrange for families to “bring their own” folding table and chairs if you don’t have enough.
Mark out spacing for comfortable seating locations in advance to take the guesswork out of seating for everyone. It is easier to relax when you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are the right distance apart, and humans naturally tend to underestimate the distance. During warm weather, picnic blankets are another great option because they demarcate the necessary spacing, but you can get them in pretty colors and designs.
Make Sanitation Fun
You can turn masks and sanitizing stations into a fun theme of your party! When my daughter turned 8 and wanted a dinosaur party, I found some adorable dinosaur masks online and ordered enough for the kids. Everyone looked amazing. We always made sure to have hand sanitizer at each table--mini sanitizers would make great favors!
The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and many have resorted to creative carryout solutions. Treat yourself to a wonderful dinner AND support a local restaurant for your gathering! Arrange your order so that you can easily distribute the carryout food to each household table. In our family gatherings, the easiest way to do this was to order pizza and salad--and I was the designated “distributor”. Once the food arrived, I washed my hands and wore my mask as I took the food around to the different tables. Another fun option is for everyone to bring their own food, picnic style!
Consider Heating & Lighting
As the weather gets colder and the days get longer, having a heat and light source is crucial for comfort at any party meeting around dinnertime. Outdoor string lights in your backyard are a fairly inexpensive way to keep things bright outside and they have the bonus of creating a festive mood.
As the weather gets colder and the days get longer, having a heat and light source is crucial for comfort at any party meeting around dinnertime.
One or two propane heaters strategically placed between family group tables will allow people to stay warm. If you are able to do a bonfire or fire pit, remember to pre-arrange the seating so that everyone can space themselves around it safely. Instruct your guests to bring their own throw blankets to pull out of the car and layer after the sun sets, just in case the temperature drops but the party wants to continue.
Covid fatigue has taken away so many things, so allow yourself the joy of adding some beauty to your gathering in ways that make the meeting special and gives you something creative and fun to look forward to.
For birthday parties, we used balloons and crepe paper garlands to brighten up the location. At Halloween, I found little chalkboard headstones to create name placards for each household table. Party hats can compliment the party theme OR the party masks. And plastic tablecloths in festive colors makes clean-up so much easier! We also arranged a socially distanced photo opportunity for separate family groups to take a picture together, but standing at least 6 feet apart, without their masks.
My final tip for pandemic gatherings is to play a game of croquet. Croquet is the perfect pandemic game: each person has their own ball and their own mallet. The game can be set up quickly by one person, and it allows for social distance from start to finish. Healthy competition and a bit of laughter is another way to connect with others, and get us all through tough times.
Photo credit: iStock.com/VSargues