The thought of bringing COVID-19 home to those closest to you may be terrifying, and yet, your family may still be asking you to visit. Thanksgiving showed us that many families however, are unwilling to give up their holiday traditions, even during a pandemic. All this, despite what we are seeing with the post-thanksgiving surge of cases; over 300,000 Americans dead and 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day.

So if you’re not one of the 80+ million Americans considering traveling this holiday season, and you still need some tips for navigating the awkward “Christmas conversation” that brings up feelings of dread and anxiety, there is hope.

Below are 15 suggestions for how to tell your family you wont be home for the holidays:

  1. My therapist told me to start working on setting boundaries. Starting now.
  2. Bringing home a deadly virus wasn’t one of my 2020 resolutions. I’ll reconsider in 2021.
  3. (this gif)
  4. I can’t travel. There’s a stray cat outside I’m feeding daily. I can’t let him down.
  5. My pastor/priest/Rabbi/Holy leader said I will be eternally shamed if I visit you.
  6. I have a conflicting appointment, a dentist appointment…. I have TMJ from all the COVID stress.
  7. I just agreed to foster a puppy and can’t leave her alone, and she bites any stranger that comes close.
  8. California has stay at home orders so I can’t leave…. Yes, I know I don’t live in California. But orders are orders.
  9. I have a flat tire and can’t travel. The mechanic is closed all week. Yes, all the mechanics are closed all week.
  10. The FDA wont allow individuals from (insert home state) to travel out of state. Oh, you haven’t seen that announcement? It must not be out yet.
  11. Yes mom, my real gift to you is disappointment and sadness instead of my presence.
  12. Your booze is not strong enough. I’d rather stay home and drink my PBR.
  13. I’ll be busy rewatching the Great British Baking Show. All eight seasons, and the holiday specials.
  14. I’m stuck in the Costco gas line…. I wont make it in time. Go on without me.
  15. I’d rather talk to Fiddo about how I’m still single and unemployed at 40 so he can judge me instead.

In all seriousness, saying no, especially to family and friends can be extremely challenging. Setting boundaries is not necessarily fun and navigating what is safe and what is not is even more difficult during a pandemic. As a clinical psychologist, I often work with my clients to navigate difficult conversations and find ways to assertively state what they need. There are a few simple strategies that may help navigate these sticky conversations.

First, follow safety suggestions by the experts instead of trying to make up your own rules. Avoid large indoor gatherings. Avoid indoor gatherings. Maybe just avoid gatherings. Wash your hands often. Wear a mask. If you find that you and your cousin are negotiating between 4 or 5 days of quarantining, stick with the experts recommendations. It’s not Halloween, so don’t pretend to be an infectious disease expert.

Make your decisions based on the most restrictive person’s wishes. If your mom asks everyone to wear masks inside the house and your uncle doesn’t think it’s necessary, require everyone to wear a mask to support your mother feeling safe. If your friends want to meet up at a bar to grab some drinks, but you don’t want to dine indoors, ask if there is a spot outside with space to spread out.

Offer to host a virtual get together. Yes, it’s not the same as in-person gatherings. But it’s better than killing your family. Zoom has also continued to waive their 40-minute limit.

Ultimately, staying home and spending the upcoming holidays with just those in your immediate household is the safest preventative measure you can take. That is, unless you live in the south and can host an outdoor, socially distanced, masked, less than 10-guest, no-singing allowed, holiday party. Saying no to family and friends may lead to difficult conversations, fights, hurt feelings, or strained relationships. But ultimately, all of those side effects are likely easier to recover from that becoming another number in the exceeding high death count.