How to Safely Celebrate the Holidays Outdoors

After months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming holiday season provides a welcome opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. However, with COVID-19 cases spiking across the country, it would be wise to modify your traditional holiday plans.

The CDC recommends limiting the number of people at gatherings, as well as the duration of events. Attendees should follow health and safety guidelines that include social distancing of at least six feet apart, wearing masks, and washing hands frequently.

Another way to reduce risk? Consider moving celebrations outdoors to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Here are a few outdoor ideas to make this holiday season memorable while keeping health and safety in mind.

Embrace the Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

Living with the chronic stress of the pandemic—plus limiting daily activities and in-person social connections—can be taxing. That’s why spending time outdoors, particularly in nature, can be the mental balm people need right now. Incorporate nature and wellness into your holiday celebrations this year using NEEF’s Public Lands Engagement: Health & Wellness in Nature guide. It’s packed with activities and research on the health benefits of the outdoors, such as:

  • Natural environments contain chemical and biological agents that can boost immune functions and promote human health.
  • Nature has significant restorative properties; it can renew depleted cognitive functions and improve performance.
  • Contact with nature can provide relief and healing for those who suffer from acute and chronic mental illness, including depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and dementia.
  • Exposure to nature, even passive experiences such as looking out over a picturesque view, can reduce stress levels.

Consider Alternative Celebrations

Instead of your usual indoor celebration with people gathered around the table for a holiday meal, think outside the (gift) box. Take your feast outdoors, perhaps setting up a picnic table in your backyard. Or ditch the big meal altogether and spend an active day with family or friends skiing, hiking, boating, biking, or horseback riding. Need additional ideas? Check out our article about embracing the outdoors to beat the winter blues.

Remember to Protect Yourself From Sun Damage

Yes, you can still get a sunburn, even in winter. Depending on how (and where) you choose to celebrate the holidays outside, you might be surrounded by water, snow, or sand—all of which reflect the sun’s damaging rays. This increases your chance of sunburn.

With one in five Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime, taking precautions can reduce your risk and allow you to enjoy the outdoors safely. Whenever you head outdoors, practice common sense sun protection habits such as applying sunscreen, checking the UV Index, and wearing protective clothing.

Get a Flu Shot

When you gather in groups, even small ones, you increase your risk for catching the flu. National Influenza Vaccination Week (December 5-12) serves as a great reminder that it’s not too late to get your flu shot. The more people who get vaccinated for seasonal flu, the fewer number of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths will occur this winter. Besides keeping yourself healthy, this can help reduce the burden on our healthcare system and save needed resources for coronavirus patient care.

As you create new memories this holiday season, do your part to protect yourself from catching or spreading COVID-19. Visit the CDC website for additional tips on celebrating safely.


Author: Lisa Beach

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