The many downsides of the pandemic have been well-documented, but instead of once again lamenting the havoc it's bringing to our lives and the holidays, let's take a few minutes to consider some of the potential bright spots. The quarantine has a number of tantalizing opportunities we can use to our benefit. Here are 10 of them:

Avoiding pesky relatives

The need to maintain adequate social distancing is a ready-made excuse for not including the extended family — especially irritating family members — in holiday gatherings. We're talking about people like your crazy Uncle Carl — you know, the one everyone says was just like you when he was young — or cranky cousin Martha, who turns every conversation into a political rant. And if you really want to draw the line, you can even exclude your mother-in-law, who would use the occasion to remind you of all your housekeeping miscues.

Dodging obligations

Granted, there are few things more endearing than watching beloved youngsters take part in holiday pageants and concerts. But, let's be honest: These things become repetitious after we've had to sit through a few of them — and by that, we mean more than two. If you have a minivan's worth of youngsters or a cadre of grandchildren, you've likely witnessed so many fifth-graders playing "Hot Cross Buns" on recorders that your face hurts at the very thought of having to smile broadly through yet another performance.

We're finally trendy (Part 1)

The last couple of years, you've stayed home on New Year's Eve and fallen asleep on the couch by 10 p.m., something you've never admitted to your friends because they'd just tease you about being a fuddy-duddy. (Which, by the way, is a sign of insecurity, meaning they likely didn't make it to 9:30.) But this year, you can brag about it. You're not being a wet blanket, you're being responsible by avoiding contact with others and getting a full night's sleep, a crucial component of good health.

We're finally trendy (Part 2)

Until now, the only people wearing face masks were bank robbers and Minnesotans in subzero weather. For perhaps the first time in our history, we can brag about being trendsetters rather than scrambling to justify why our hottest styles are three years behind California's. The next time you talk to a friend or relative on the West Coast, remember that gloating is not a very Minnesotan thing to do. But if they mention our weather, all bets are off.

Forgetting about names

Neighborhood holiday gatherings are great for creating a sense of community, but it won't hurt to skip one. There's always a person or two whom we talk to only once a year at these gatherings. We can't remember this person's name, and are stuck trying to fake our way through the encounter. That's tricky, because it just doesn't cut it to greet someone by saying, "Hi, Guy Who Lives on the Corner and Has a Dog That Growls Every Time I Walk Down the Sidewalk."

No more small talk

Office holiday parties come with the inherent danger of getting trapped in a conversation with our boss' boss' boss — or, worst yet, our boss' boss' boss' spouse. It's hard enough to make chitchat with someone you don't know. Adding to the tension is the desperate urge to avoid coming off as stupid, which is doubly hard when we have nothing in common. Even Minnesotans eventually run out of ways to say it's cold outside.

Grooming gaffes

With parties canceled and most religious institutions holding their holiday services online, there's no need to get all gussied up for events. After all, why bother to wash your hair when even combing it has become optional?

A tournament bye

The holiday school break is the time for tournaments: hockey, basketball, volleyball. If kids play it, there's going to be a tournament. And it's likely to be at least an hour's drive — in good weather, which, of course, we never have during the holiday school break. And then there's the tournament phenomenon, which science has never been able to explain: Every kid has a game at 8 a.m., for which the coaches want them to arrive by at least 7. Logic might tell you that the games are held throughout the day and there's no way every team can be assigned to the first slot, but ask any parent who's had kids in sports, and they'll swear that they always draw the early morning short straw. If the tourneys end up being curtailed this year, the youngsters will be disappointed, but their parents will be better rested.

Keeping it real

Minnesotan feel obliged to smile, especially at the holidays and even when we don't feel like it. That's no longer an issue because no one can see the bottom half of our faces. So go ahead and scowl all you want. You can even stick out your tongue at people, if you feel so moved. Just make sure you're wearing a mask at the time. This technique doesn't play nearly as well while you're on a Zoom call with your supervisor.

An open excuse to snub

Seeing someone you don't want to talk with coming down a supermarket aisle straight at you is enough to take away anyone's appetite. But with masks on, we've got a perfect out for ignoring them. We can just pretend that we don't recognize them because we can't see their face. And there's always the hope that they won't recognize us — especially if we pull our mask up to our eyebrows.