It’s safe to say no one’s dreaming of a code-red Christmas, unlike the ones we used to know. Where the people distance, and all must listen, to public-health orders to stay home.
But it’s time for Manitobans to start coming to terms with a radically scaled-down holiday season.
On Wednesday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said people should plan to stay home for Christmas and Hanukkah.
"We’re still trying to get these numbers down, and I think it’s really important to start those plans now to celebrate differently this year, whether that be virtually, just within the own household," he said.
The doctor is right. It’s time to start having discussions with family members about what the holidays will look like this year. This will not be easy — ‘tis the season of beloved, much-anticipated traditions, such as the baking weekend with mom, or tree-trimming with nieces and nephews. The idea of adjusting or cancelling those plans after a long, challenging year is understandably heartbreaking. ‘Tis also the season of familial guilt, and people may feel pressured into hosting or attending gatherings they are not comfortable with.
We know enough about how COVID-19 spreads to understand that holiday gatherings are especially risky — people spending many hours together, in close proximity, maskless and indoors; sharing utensils and passing dishes during family meals, or allowing a hug here and there because, after all, it’s Christmastime.
Gatherings among friends and family in people’s homes are driving COVID-19 cases. We’ve focused too much, perhaps, on the risks associated with shopping and not nearly enough on the risks associated with socializing.
But while it’s critical for families to make safe COVID-19 holiday plans now, it’s equally as imperative for the province to plan for the reality that many naughty-list Manitobans are going to go ahead with the festive season as usual.
One doesn’t need a crystal ball; one only needs to look at U.S. Thanksgiving, which many health officials fear will be a devastating — and deadly — super-spreader event. Many Americans have elected to travel to see their families, despite spiking rates of cases and deaths, and packed intensive-care units.
Experts there have for weeks been begging people to stay home. More than 260,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 — each of them an American whose absence will be felt at Thanksgiving and every holiday after that. And still, people have opted to travel and gather.
Likely anticipating such a scenario here, Quebec Premier François Legault is asking residents of his province to enter into a "moral contract" and limit themselves to two gatherings between Dec. 24 and 27. They must quarantine for a week before and a week after. It’s a move Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has called "dangerous"; perhaps it’s just realistic.
No, the holidays won’t be the same. It’s OK to feel disappointed, exhausted, or even angry. It’s understandable if you’re struggling. The loss of tradition, the loss of time — that precious non-renewable resource — with family members is a loss worth grieving.
But the health and safety of everyone is more important than our individual feelings. It’s also worth noting that many people of other faiths, cultures and backgrounds have also had to forgo major, much-loved holidays this year.
It might not seem like it right now, but staying home could turn out to be the most important gift you ever give.