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Many people have shelved plans for Christmas this year upon learning that COVID-19 infections have surged nationwide in recent weeks. Record numbers of people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, causing politicians in major cities to revise or even scrap GoTo travel programs. In the capital, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has urged residents to avoid going out in groups, speak quietly in public venues and limit the time spent in restaurants and bars to less than one hour. So much for the Christmas spirit.

However, staying home for Christmas doesn’t have to equate with being bored and lonely. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned over the past 10 months or so, it’s the art of solitude or, at least, spending time with a handful of selected people.

As a result, restaurants, hotels and patisseries are recommending four-at-most gatherings at which the three main components of a typical Japanese Christmas — the dinner, cake and gifts — have been reduced in scale.

In spite of this, the offerings are still extravagant enough to create a sense of Yuletide. Westin Hotel, for instance, has released a miniature Christmas cake for people who are planning to catch up with family or friends on Christmas Eve via Zoom.

It’s also worth noting that a number of families have reserved department store cakes online this year instead of making the reservation in person.

Meanwhile, large year-end company parties are being replaced by smaller intimate gatherings that involve enjoying restaurant deliveries at someone’s home and early cut-off times.

As the number of infections grow, more people are shifting to online Christmas experiences, posting photos of handmade Christmas-themed sweets and crafted gifts.

“I know this Christmas isn’t going to be like the others but I’m still looking forward to it,” Twitter user @mokomoko-cookies wrote.

The user is a member of Booth, one of several online organizations that encourage people to get creative, socialize and make a little income while staying safely at home.

Originally an e-commerce platform created by online illustration service Pixiv in 2013, Booth is fairly popular among artists and creators looking to sell their work. The emergence of COVID-19, however, has given the platform more exposure, and demand for handmade accessories and stickers in the form of sweets, such as those made by mokomoko-cookie, is rising. Online, at least, people are looking for alternate ways to make Christmas more creative and satisfying, even if they have to spend it alone, away from family and loved ones.

And speaking of happy experiences, the pandemic has possibly made Christmas more romantic. Online magazines like Ozmall have produced lists of hotels specifically targeting couples with Christmas on their minds, with appropriately themed rooms and other seasonal draws. A separate Ozmall article even goes so far to say that the Christmas proposal may be back in fashion for the first time in decades. According to the report on Ozmall, a number of couples have reaffirmed their relationships in a year of unprecedented crisis and are now ready to tie the knot in anticipation of a new beginning.

There’s some hard evidence to support this theory, with couples visiting high-end jewelry shops in droves from the summer in the hunt for engagement and wedding rings.

“People are seeking marriage and stability due to the novel coronavirus,” Nobuhide Nango, managing director of Hankyu Hanshin Department Store, tells WWD Japan.

Nagao adds that after months of not being able to set foot in department stores, “couples are fearful that everything will shut down again and they want something tangible like a ring before the onslaught of the next crisis.”

They’re making expensive choices, too. In the same article, department stores and jewelry shops all report that the majority of sales are being recorded in the ¥1 million to ¥3 million price range, with some even spending as much as ¥10 million.

With many couples having extra cash reserves as a result of canceled weddings and honeymoons earlier this year, they’re now ready to splurge on that last bastion of romantic extravagance: a ring, preferably gifted on Christmas Eve.

“People have realized how important their partners are thanks to COVID-19,” says Minoru Saeki of Sogo Seibu Leasing. “Along with the usual younger set, couples in their 40s and 50s are coming to purchase jewelry together these days.”

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