“Ontario to enter full lockdown on Christmas Eve.”
That was a front-page headline in The Globe and Mail exactly one year ago, on Dec. 21, 2020.
With COVID-19 cases soaring again, and new pandemic restrictions lurking, there is a strange sense of déjà vu in the air.
But Christmas 2021 has not been cancelled, nor should it be. Rather, we should downsize and embrace the mantra “small is beautiful.”
It’s all about risk mitigation at a personal and societal level.
Last year’s holidays in lockdown were pretty grim. This year, despite the unwelcome arrival of the Omicron variant, we have a little more leeway, thanks to vaccination and the knowledge that we’ve accumulated through two years of the pandemic.
Let’s not forget how far we’ve come in a short time. The first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in Canada on Dec. 9, 2020, and now 29.3 million Canadians have received at least two doses, and more than four million have received three doses.
The vaccines do not provide 100-per-cent protection, but they do make the risk of severe illness and death much lesser if you do get infected.
We can eat, drink and be merry, but do it on a less grand (or grandiose) scale than in the past.
The goal should be to minimize contacts as much as possible. Keep your bubble small, to use oh-so-2020 language.
Go ahead and have a Christmas dinner, but keep it intimate. Having guests over? Then insist they be double- or triple-vaccinated.
Some of the toughest Yuletide decisions will be about how to deal with unvaccinated family members. There really shouldn’t be much leeway: The unvaccinated should not be welcome at festivities, especially if there are vulnerable folks present, such as elders or immunocompromised people.
If you’re accused of being a Safety Scrooge, so be it.
Don’t neglect your mental health. In these anxious times, take some time away from doomscrolling on social media. Reach out to the lonely and isolated, if only virtually.
But, mostly, embrace practical gestures.
Make visits shorter. Forgo some of the hugs and two-cheek kisses. If kids are visiting the grandparents, keep the visits short and masked.
Put the mistletoe away. Serve a little less alcohol, because drinking lessens inhibitions. Open a window to improve ventilation. Head outdoors when possible.
Move some of the normally in-person activities online. Maybe that traditional church service can be viewed remotely or replaced by some quiet reflection.
That yearning to see Spider-Man: No Way Home or Licorice Pizza on the big screen can maybe be semi-satisfied with a little more Netflix or Crave. Board games are back in vogue, too.
When doing that last-minute holiday shopping, mask up – double-mask even. Or cut down on such purchases, which would be good for your pocketbook.
And as much as some people are looking forward to a holiday in the sun, or a long-overdue visit to grandma’s house, maybe forgo those trips just a bit longer.
A lot of this is about taking personal responsibility. But governments also have an important role, in providing sound advice and guidance.
The easiest rules to follow are simple, clear ones. It’s a shame that provinces and territories can’t offer similar, consistent advice on, for example, limits on the size of gatherings.
Of course, regardless of the rules, they are difficult to enforce. We’re not going to have pandemic police on every corner. We have to rely on people’s sense of civic duty.
Let’s not forget that COVID-19 is more of a collective threat than an individual one. Risk is not evenly spread across society.
We should not so much ask ourselves, “What is the risk to me?” as “How will I put others at risk with my behaviour?” That’s what personal responsibility is really about.
Yes, there is some sacrifice required – again. But it’s relative. A little less eggnog and schmoozing does not compare to the sacrifices being made by personal support workers, nurses and doctors, and other essential workers keeping us fed.
The greatest gift you can give during the pandemic holiday season is not infecting others – keeping one more patient out of hospital; bringing the pandemic one small step closer to ending.
Limit your contacts. Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Dream about a better Christmas next year.
That’s the way to deck the halls this Christmas.
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