How to Help a Friend Through the Holidays

Updated Oct 25, 2023 / Published December 5, 2020 

The holidays can be a time of joy, wonder and gratitude. They can also be a time of high stress, sadness, and endless logistics and errands. Add on a child with an illness or injury and it’s enough to overwhelm anyone! And now thanks COVID and intense flu seasons, it can be especially challenging with additional restrictions, fears, and change. That’s why it’s so important for families to have a supportive community they can rely on to lend a helping hand.

You can help bring back the holiday cheer by facilitating traditions and enabling celebration. While your friend may prefer to avoid in-person visits (especially for immunocompromised and other high-risk individuals), there are still plenty of ways to help.

Supporting Friends During the Holidays

Before doing anything to help a friend through the holidays, it’s important to first ask what they need. That said, it’s also good to have some suggestions in mind as they may not have an answer or struggle to ask for help. Below are a few ideas to get you started.

Feed Them

For many, food is especially important during holidays. But cooking can be a hassle when you have plenty already on your plate. Why not ask your friend about any special traditions or holiday favorites? They may be willing to share the family recipe so you can reproduce it at home. You can also try sending over something your family loves, though be careful to take any food restrictions or allergies into account.

Not a cook? That’s okay – there are plenty of restaurants and caterers available for pick-up or delivery. You can also provide gift cards, do a grocery run, or give a subscription to one of the many meal services or food boxes available. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the importance of breakfast and snacks!


It doesn’t quite feel like a holiday without seasonal décor. Sparkling lights, a beautiful kinara or menorah, and even a winter snowman can really lift the spirits. However, decorating can also be a challenging, or even exhausting, task for a family already stretched thin.

Having a friend provide the supplies can make things a bit easier. You could also decorate the outside of the house and yard using new decorations or theirs. And if their child is in treatment, it’s equally important to have something for their room. Just be sure to ask about any restrictions and safety precautions first.

Help with Gifts

Gifts are often another big part of the holidays. Thanks to the continued growth of online shopping, it seems everyone is an expert. But the work doesn’t stop with a delivery at the door. Late-night panics over assembly is a common joke for a reason! And then there’s all the wrapping to do. Plus, while in-store shopping may seem like a thing of the past, some items still require pick-up.

Why not offer to take on some of the work? You can assemble toys and other gifts, provide wrapping supplies, or even wrap gifts yourself. If the family will be away for treatments, you could also offer to pick up deliveries so that they aren’t left sitting unattended at the door.

Another idea: hide things! With everyone home, it can be difficult to find a moment of privacy, nevertheless a place to stash a special surprise. Offer your services as the “gift warehouse” and keep packages until closer to the day of celebration. Then make a special delivery at a time that is more convenient.

Support Siblings

The first reaction to a child’s diagnosis is often to send gifts and give special attention to the patient themselves, and then to the parents. Unfortunately, siblings are often overlooked. Yet they are impacted just as much. For these kids, the holidays can be especially tough.

One great way to help is to make siblings feel special and find ways to have their holiday be as “normal” as possible. You could ensure they can still participate in holiday traditions that are especially important to them. Or you might set up a videocall to do holiday activities and crafts, read seasonal stories, or even cook a special dish. You could also simply send a holiday card or gift just for them.

Another important, but often overlooked, way to support siblings is to help them in ways their parents may be too busy to. Things like gift shopping or wrapping can be too difficult for younger children. Or they may not know how to get the things they need. Be sure to check-in with the parents first of course, but a little outside adult support can go a long way.

Be Safe

Finally, as always, please be sure to ask your friend about any precautions their family may take. It is common for many treatments to suppress patients’ immune systems and/or they may face additional complications even with a common cold. Wear a mask, wash hands, test as appropriate, and be safe!

Need more ideas for ways to help a family member or friend whose child has an illness or injury? Check out our year-round favorites here and here.

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