AROUND HERE people still wish each other a merry Christmas.

That greeting is not meant to be culturally insensitive. Folks know there are those who don’t celebrate the holiday in the traditional sense. There’s no hidden agenda in wishing someone joy. And most people don’t object if the greeting they hear coming back to them is “happy Hanukkah,” or “happy Kwanzaa,” or the more generic “happy holidays.”

Beyond the specifics of the celebrations, the exchange of greetings is to wish each other well. Those positive feelings toward others seem all the more important as 2020 — with all of its life-changing turmoil — winds down.

Beyond the happiness and joy we wish for ourselves and each other, safety should be a top priority. And by a happy coincidence, safety to a large extent is within our control.

Nobody wants to miss a holiday gathering, but in many instances it will not be safe for families and friends to gather in large groups. People who are most at risk from the novel coronavirus could face a deadly illness transmitted to them by loved ones who have no outward signs of COVID-19.

For those families who plan to go ahead with a Christmas meal, gift exchange or travel, the safety of everyone will rest with each individual acting responsibly. Anybody with a fever, a cough, any symptoms of an ailment should stay quarantined. That unselfish act could mean the difference between life and death for a loved one.

Travel during coming days also will be more dangerous and there are a few common sense precautions that should be observed.

In the United States, AAA predicts that about 85 million people will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, most of them by car. If true, that would be a drop of nearly one-third from a year ago, but it would still be a massive movement of people in the middle of a pandemic.

Travel has been dampened by the pandemic, but even with highways less crowded than last year, the holiday rush will increase the danger.

Anyone who has been drinking, even in moderation, should not be driving. Reaction times are not as fast when alcohol is involved. Winter driving already is more dangerous due to the earlier arrival of nightfall. There is no safe level of alcohol in the blood stream.

With the legalization of marijuana, in Illinois, and medical marijuana, in Missouri, there also are safety concerns involving driver impairment.

A study by AAA released earlier this year indicates that fatal crashes involving marijuana have more than doubled in states where cannabis is now sold. The study compared five years of statistics before marijuana was legalized and up to five years afterwards.

Distracted driving also is a silent killer. Ubiquitous cell phone use has made it difficult for many Americans to recognize the dangers of using their device while driving.

There are other safety concerns, but the main theme is the same: Each of us has the power to reduce risks.

Merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year to you.

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