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The weekly video "meetings" with my parents and brothers started months ago.

My not-always-technical family figured out the online video conferencing service Zoom as a substitute for the in-person visits we all prefer. It's really just for me, I suppose. My parents and brothers are in central Arkansas, living within about 25 miles of each other. Even in the pandemic, they see each other more frequently.

It's turned out we've digitally visited, as a whole, more frequently in 2020 than we typically did in person before the pandemic. It's been nice and may be worth continuing even after we get this virus under control.

A couple of months ago, we did what we always do: Mom cut up little slips of paper and put everyone's names on them for the Christmas gift exchange. We draw names among the adults so that everyone gets a gift, but there's no expectation for everyone to get gifts for everyone else. The time we spend together for Christmas is the real gift we all anticipate every year.

We canceled our usual Thanksgiving, which draws 20 or 25 people, to avoid becoming part of the Arkansas statistics measuring the spread of covid-19. Smaller and less crowded was the better option.

The name drawing, though, reflected our highest hopes for some family time in December, even if it wouldn't be on Christmas Day. It rarely is. But as we've proven over and over through the years, Christmas can be a meaningful time for families whether it's Dec. 25 or some other day.

All of us watched the covid-19 numbers grow rapidly after Thanksgiving, indicating a lot of Arkansans stuck with traditions public health experts advised against because of the high probability of spreading the aggressive coronavirus.

And last week, the time to make some final plans for a Christmas get-together came. In a Zoom call, we determined it would be Dec. 26, with everyone gathering at my house in Fayetteville. But there's was an uneasiness in the discussion, too. My parents are in the age group for which covid-19 is most dangerous. Within the family there are one or two of the chronic conditions that also tend to make people more vulnerable to complications from covid-19.

The discussion was a clash between the strong wishes to be together, even for just a few hours of family time face to face, and the tensions of increasing the odds someone would becoming infected with covid-19. We all know people whose lives have lately been disrupted by the disease.

As strongly as we felt about gathering as a family, it was also clear the threat of covid-19 meant family members who have spent months making wise decisions to protect themselves from covid-19 would likely be sitting on pins and needle at any such gathering.

And the ultimate question had to be asked: Would a few hours together be worth the increased threat to people we love? Perhaps the greatest expression of that love was to put everyone at ease, to avoid a situation that would promote the virus' spread.

So we postponed. And the same day we made that decision, my brother was notified he'd had close contact with a co-worker who tested positive for covid-19. His days leading to Christmas will be spent in quarantine.

Sometimes in 2021, we'll get this virus under control when enough people receive the vaccine. Whenever that is, it will be time for a big family celebration. But for now, the best gift any of us can give to those we care about is to not make them sick.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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