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There’s an entire industry of lifestyle gurus who, every December, conjure up lists of ways to minimize the stresses of the Christmas break.

Things such as, “take time for yourself,” “spend less money” or “remember to have fun” are reliably among the top tips for getting through a season whose demands can make people feel harried and broke, and ultimately leave them vowing that, next year, they will keep things simple.

Next year has finally arrived. The holiday people joke about taking a holiday from has been reduced to a shadow of itself by sweeping lockdowns in most parts of Canada.

Public-health officials are telling Canadians not to travel or meet with people outside their household. Seniors living in long-term care homes are being advised to stay put and avoid visitors. With non-essential stores closed to foot traffic, impulse gift-buying has been sedated. Restaurants in many cities are limited to takeout and delivery only.

The most populous provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario – have some of the toughest restrictions, affecting tens of millions of people. Come Boxing Day, Ontario and Quebec will be going into provincewide lockdowns.

That quiet holiday you always dreamed of is finally here – and of course everyone hates it. A less stressful Christmas is a nice idea, but no one wanted it forced on them by disease and government fiat.

And besides, people are just as stressed as ever, if not more so, albeit for different reasons.

More than 14,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19. Thousands more have fallen sick enough to be hospitalized.

Our lives have been upended by school closings, and then by the complications of school re-openings; by business shutdowns and queuing up for groceries; by working from home, or not working at all, or having to risk one’s health in an essential but low-paying job.

Canadians were hit with many real hardships in 2020. When politicians failed to use more sophisticated tools to contain COVID-19, such as ramped-up and well targeted testing and tracing, it fell to regular people to do the job by enduring lockdowns, business closings, layoffs and physical-distancing orders.

If there was ever a moment when a year-end blowout would have been deserved, this is it.

Maybe, though, the holiday we’re getting is the holiday we needed. And not just for public-health reasons, or because there’s a curve that needs flattening under the weight of public sacrifice.

Maybe focusing on our closest family members, and keeping our gatherings small at the end of a year that has seen so many people lose loved ones, will help us remember what, and who, is most important in our lives.

Perhaps the absences – the family we cannot share a meal with; the friends we cannot visit – will reinforce the bonds that time has a way of fraying over the course of busy lives.

Maybe there is something healthy about not feeling pressured to drive through snowstorms and ice storms to get to a Christmas dinner in another province. And maybe there’s something healthy about wishing that we could.

And perhaps there is more to reflect on from the past year than just how painful it was, especially for those who’ve survived it relatively unscathed.

After all, 2020 was in its own way a year of innovation and change. People were forced to rethink the way they work, their relationships, their businesses, their goals and other aspects of life that can get soldered in place by routine.

“Let this grisly beginning be none other to you than is to wayfarers a rugged and steep mountain,” Giovanni Boccaccio wrote in The Decameron, a 14th-century masterpiece about 10 people who flee the bubonic plague in Florence, Italy, and hole up in a villa telling stories to one another.

The holiday season means different things to different people, but its common values are those of family, peace and gratitude. These may well be strengthened by being concentrated during a pandemic.

The holidays will be smaller this year, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been diluted.

And of course there’s always next year. Imagine the New Year’s party that awaits us in 12 months, what with vaccines on their way, and the pent-up desire to reconnect and restart our normal lives.

Stay safe. Stay strong. And stay close.

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