Candles in the dark

Religious holidays come around even in the middle of a global pandemic, but like all holiday celebrations during COVID we need to think a bit differently about them.

The need for people to balance medical advice around health and safety while still observing these religious holidays poses unique challenges. 

This year may have been the first time that you have prepared Seder dinner for only those in your immediate household. It may have been the first time that you didn't attend a church service on Easter Sunday.

Now with Christmas upon us, we are faced with more firsts, but religious institutions now have had more time to develop remote and safe ways to celebrate both holy days and weekly services.

How to Practice Safely

According to Thomas B. Smyth, MD, president and CEO of UM St. Joseph Medical Center, maintaining a robust spiritual connection with others even as we maintain safe social distancing is crucial.

It is possible to maintain social distance and continue to limit community spread while honoring your faith traditions. Doctors encourage people to take advantage of alternatives to mass gatherings, such as:

  • Virtual services offered by many houses of worship on their website, Facebook page and other online platforms
  • Video chat technology such as Zoom and FaceTime, which offer an opportunity to stay connected with family members and celebrate the holidays
  • Enjoy a smaller celebration with immediate family now, and hold a larger celebration when the pandemic is over
  • Cook traditional foods at home to enjoy the familiar tastes and smells of the holiday, and share photos and video via social media and direct communications with friends and family

Social distancing, vigorous hand washing, wearing masks and avoiding in-person gatherings are the most effective ways to help limit the community spread of novel coronavirus.

Seek Support

Adam Rosenblatt, MD, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, mentions that people may be experiencing stress, tension, loneliness, irritability, anxiety or despair during this difficult time. This is especially true if you can't practice your religious traditions with your family and friends, or are staying at home with family members or housemates that you might have tensions with.

Social interaction can help relieve these negative feelings. Connect with family and friends via the phone or technology so you can see their faces. Even if you can't utilize this technology, reach out to people you care about. It's important to find people in your life who can be a source of support during this difficult time.

"What we know about our faith traditions is that they are timeless and are infused with messages of hope," said Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, president and chief executive officer of University of Maryland Medical System.

"Our communities are all celebrating religious traditions differently this year, the challenges of COVID-19 are driving all of us to be uniquely bonded across different faiths by this shared experience," Dr. Suntha added.