December 2020 has certainly shaped up to be the strangest holiday season in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for three-quarters of a year now, and it has given us reason to adapt our lifestyles to be safer – including the way we celebrate special occasions.

Still, some holiday habits are hard to break and can sadly be sources of increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. Why don’t we take a moment to ponder some reminders that can help us adjust these habits and focus on celebrating Christmas in the safest way possible?

It’s still possible to get into the holiday spirit even during a pandemic.

The things that we’ve come to expect every holiday season – gatherings and mealtimes with family, simbang gabi, trips to parks or shopping centers, out-of-town celebration trips – have to be put on hold or modified to be safer while we’re still grappling with COVID-19.

That doesn’t mean the holiday spirit has been changed, though. The holiday season is still the same in essence: it’s a time to be grateful for God’s diverse and limitless blessings as the ultimate examples of open and unselfish giving. It is also a time to emulate His example of giving, sharing joy and grace to others whether through tangible or intangible gifts.

There are multiple ways we can still live up to the holiday spirit even without doing most of the things we used to do. Staying in touch with our families and friends is one, and that’s made easier through the variety of digital communication tools we have today. Any money or resources we can spare can also be donated to those in need, especially after the country was hit by multiple typhoons in the middle of a pandemic. If it’s something that can make others feel our care and concern without the need for physical contact, then it definitely counts!

Make meals safe for everyone at the table.

Dining together will always be an important part of Philippine holiday tradition. But the very same activity, one that we looked forward to each year, is now sadly a venue for the coronavirus to spread. People sitting at the same table in close contact with each other is already quite risky, but because we can’t wear face masks and face shields while eating then it becomes even more dangerous.

So when meals do have to be taken together, we have to make sure it’s a manageable group size with some space in between. Proper sanitation and hygiene must also be observed at all times: wash hands thoroughly, whether preparing or eating food, and keep the kitchen and dining table clean. Food must always be fresh, so that no one gets sick from spoilage.

And just because we can’t physically share the same table, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy each other’s home-cooked dishes! If the means are available, we can divide our noche buena and have it delivered to our relatives and friends. An online dinner via Zoom or Skype would be a nice finishing touch.

The unusual holiday celebrations can actually help us save money.

Most of us will see the limitations imposed on holiday activities as a negative, but they can actually work in our favor! Just remember: many of these celebratory activities, especially those done outside the home, involve spending money.

Dining out on Christmas Eve? Costly. Buying gifts for the extended family? We end up buying additional stuff we don’t need due to the temptation of ongoing sales. Preparing noche buena for numerous guests? Fresh and packaged ingredients alike are getting expensive in the middle of the unstable economy. That’s a lot of money that can be saved if we can find alternatives to these holiday traditions.

Instead of cooking an entire meal for the whole extended family, we can cook simple ones for our own households and throw in one or two side dishes that we can also have delivered to our relatives. Cooking fewer dishes is definitely more affordable, after all. Of course, if we’ll be doing this then there will be no need to dine out, and we won’t have to pay for meals with tax on them. And as for gifts, maybe there are some family heirlooms or hand-made items that we can give instead of the usual brand-new clothes, fixtures, cutlery, appliances, and the like. Store-bought gifts, even when bought on sale, are still expensive compared to items we already have or that we can make ourselves.

This is NOT the last holiday season we’ll be having with our loved ones.

In recent times, the YOLO (you only live once) mentality has taken the world by storm. People are starting to seize each day and each opportunity that they can to achieve happiness and fulfillment, based on the reality that their lives are finite and will come to an end at some point. Some have applied this to life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, doing things that they’ve always done even if those things are dangerous considering how easily the coronavirus can be transmitted.

And while there is a grain of truth in this mentality, it’s not a justification for being reckless and irresponsible. We are living in extraordinary times; we are facing a disease that can strike anywhere and at any time. The sad thing is, stubbornly insisting on celebrating the holidays the way they’ve always been may actually increase the possibility that this will be the last one we get to spend with loved ones who are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Traditional holiday celebrations that involve gatherings and being outdoors are particularly dangerous to family members who are below 18, above 60, or have existing illnesses. For their sake, it would be best to avoid these activities especially during the holidays. We must adopt a defensive mentality that prioritizes their safety, so that we can increase the possibility of more holidays to spend with them once the pandemic is over.

In the current state of the world, the best gift to give is the freedom from worries over the pandemic.

The best outcome for any family is for all the members to remain safe and healthy during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the outcome we should all be striving for, and safety and health protocols are designed to help us achieve it. We give each other great reassurance when we stick to these protocols, showing each other that long-term safety and health matter more than the temporary festiveness of the holiday season.

Conversely, we increase each other’s reasons to worry when we ignore safety and health protocols for the sake of doing what we have always done at Christmas. We burden each other more when we prioritize a “closer-to-normal” celebration than our collective protection against the coronavirus. And through this, we could place each other under great risk of being infected. That’s not the right thing to “give” during the season of giving!

This season, let’s all work together to free ourselves and our loved ones from the burden of facing unnecessary risks. We have steps we can take to greatly minimize the chances of being infected with COVID-19, which will help clear our mental and emotional baggage that comes from the dangers of these trying times. And with clear minds and hearts, we can fully embrace and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas: sharing and giving joy to each other through our togetherness and gratitude to the Lord, even if we can only do it through our gadgets for now.

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