How to Break the News to Loved Ones That You Won’t Be Attending Holiday Gatherings This Year

As COVID cases are surging nationwide, the fear of spreading or catching coronavirus is too great for some people to feel comfortable with in-person holiday celebrations. Here’s how to navigate those conversations with your family and friends..

The holidays are fast approaching but with coronavirus cases surging nationwide, “home for the holidays” isn’t an option for many this year.

The CDC is strongly advising against Thanksgiving travel, and with COVID-19 again raging in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked residents to limit holiday gatherings to two households or preferably not gather with family and friends at all this year. 

For many families, the holiday season represents a time to come together, and celebrating with loved ones is not only a tradition, but it can also be cathartic, especially in a difficult year like 2020

But this year, the fear of spreading or catching coronavirus is too great for some people to feel comfortable with in-person holiday celebrations, regardless of how cherished their seasonal traditions may be. But how do you tell your family or friends that this year you simply don’t feel safe gathering together? 

“One of the first things it’s important to do is to give yourself permission to not travel for the holidays or to not have people over,” says Rachel Miller, Vice Life Deputy Editor. 

These types of conversations could become very emotional, Miller says. “[Family members and friends] might try to talk you out of it. Take a little time to think through why you don’t think [gathering] is a good idea and feel really solid in it…so you feel sure of yourself and come across as confident in your decision.” 

Miller recently wrote a guide to how to have these potentially difficult conversations for Vice.

In it, she offers discussion prompts like these:

  • “I’ve read way too many stories about small family gatherings ending in tragedy, and I’m just not willing to take that risk.”
  • “I’ve barely left my home for the past six months; as much as I love our typical Thanksgiving weekend, I’m just not comfortable traveling, interacting with strangers, or combining households during this pandemic.”
  • “I love you so much, and I couldn’t live with myself if I got you sick.”
  • “The holidays are the riskiest time to travel because of how many people will be and will have been out and about and mixing households. Airports are also likely going to be way more crowded than they’ve been, and so will planes—airlines want to make money, so they are likely to sell all their seats.”
  • “I know that I won’t be able to fully relax and enjoy myself while I’m there, and I don’t want our time together to be burdened by that.”

Miller says it’s important to not procrastinate on breaking the news to loved ones that you won’t be seeing them for the holidays this year. “The thing to remember is that [your parents, grandparents, children, etc.] might decide to make alternate plans if you’re not going to be a part of holiday gatherings this year,” she says.

Click the audio player above to hear Miller discuss more tips on how to successfully navigate this potentially difficult conversation.

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date

WDET is here to keep you informed on essential information, news and resources related to COVID-19.

This is a stressful, insecure time for many. So it’s more important than ever for you, our listeners and readers, who are able to donate to keep supporting WDET’s mission. Please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Amanda LeClaire
    Amanda LeClaire is an award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. She’s a founding producer of WDET’s flagship news talk show Detroit Today, and a former host/reporter for Arizona Public Media. Amanda is also an artist, certified intuitive and energy healer, and professional tarot reader.