The COVID that stole Christmas: How the pandemic is dismantling many of our holiday traditions

Original Article

All across Canada, the Grinch is making his move — not in a one-night kleptomaniacal blitz, but a piecemeal dismantling of annual Christmas traditions as COVID-19 rules restrict what many Canadians look forward to about the holiday season.

As yet, the holiday season hasn’t been completely scrapped, although food and toy drives, visits with mall Santas, and annual Christmas festivals and parades have all felt the impact of stringent pandemic rules as provinces scramble to contain the second wave of cases.

At the Agassiz Senior Community, in Agassiz, B.C., just north of Chilliwack, the care home has asked the community to donate outdoor Christmas decorations to beautify the grounds and brighten the holiday season for the residents, turning it into a “winter wonderland,” according to a memo from the home.

With visits and other activities curtailed at care homes across the country because of COVID-19, the company said doing indoor festivities wasn’t a safe option this year, but at least residents could look outdoors and see some Christmas cheer.

Ian West, the vice-president, operations, of Park Place Seniors Living, confirmed any decorations indoors would need regular cleaning, making them unfeasible. The outdoor decorations was a way to make the best of the situation, he said.

“This is another way of getting the community involved in the home and the residents’ lives,” West said.


The Calgary Firefighters Toy Association, which has been providing toys to those in need since the 1940s, has cancelled its toy drive this year, saying it was a blow to the people who work on the annual initiative. They had already found a workaround to the indoor event, and were planning on hosting a drive-thru, but opted to scrap that given the latest — and strictest — COVID-19 rules that came into effect in Alberta this week.

“It was a major emotional blow,” said Mark Hagel, the president of the association. “There was a lot of emotional investment and a lot of time investment into the event this year.” A news release says they’re still looking for ways to get gifts to children.

“We do have to take into consideration the safety of our clientele, the safety of our volunteers,” said Hagel.

Another annual event, in Edmonton, the Festival of Trees, has gone virtual, instead of the local Christmas gala it normally is, to raise money for the University Hospital Foundation.

In Toronto, the 116-year-old Santa Claus Parade, which normally draws tens of thousands of people along the parade route, will go broadcast-only this year. A two-hour special is planned for the evening of Dec. 5th, with floats, musical guests and the traditional “celebrity clowns.”

People at Edmonton’s Festival of Trees in 2019. The fundraising event has gone virtual this year. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia/File

The city is also cancelling its Christmas market, as well as its annual New Year’s Eve bash in Nathan Phillips Square.

And while Santa may be immune from the virus, according to some reports, he’s gone virtual at Cadillac Fairview, which operates malls around the country. “We firmly believe this is the best decision and we are confident that our virtual Santa experiences will deliver all of the magic of the holidays,” said Craig Flannagan, the company’s vice-president of marketing, in a news release.

Food drives have also been forced to make changes for their busiest giving season. The Edmonton Christmas Bureau is instead giving out grocery gift cards. In Ottawa, where the mayor hosts an annual celebration to raise money for the food bank, the event has been cancelled, although the city notes that Christmas lights will still go up at city hall.

Some other traditions remain: Canada Post will ensure that Santa still gets back to children who write him letters at the North Pole, but letters need to be mailed by Dec. 8.

“It’s a long way to the North Pole and back, so we are encouraging everyone to mail their letters as soon as possible in order to get a response from Santa before Christmas,” said Canada Post in an emailed statement. “Rest assured that we are working closely with Santa and his elves so that all letters sent to the North Pole will receive a reply.”

Toronto, currently under COVID lockdown, has cancelled the annual Christmas market in its Distillery District. Postmedia/File

As Martyn Bennett, a professor of modern history at Nottingham Trent University writes in The Conversation, Christmas has been cancelled in the past. After the English Civil War, for example, the government tried to ban Christmas. In some places, Bennett writes, people “celebrated Christmas rowdily,” and “young men with spiked clubs patrolled the streets,”  insisting shops remain closed for the holidays.

“Taking up arms and breaking the rules weren’t just about experiencing the fun of the season. Fighting against the prohibition of Christmas was a political act,” Bennett writes.

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