After months of checking COVID-19 stats with the obsessiveness of a Twitter user counting likes, I need a holiday break from the virus. The problem is the pandemic is the Grinch who’s already stolen Christmas.
Holiday traditions may look different this year. I expect to see people accessorizing their Christmas-themed sweaters with festive face masks. Forget the Instant Pot — the must-have gift this year will be hand sanitizer with aloe.
On the bright side, smaller (or no) family gatherings mean no awkward conversations with the drunk uncle who tells everyone what he thinks is wrong with the world.
What might our celebrations look like in the era of Coronavirus? I played around with the idea of hosting a Zoom party until my wife insisted that I had to wear pants at least once this pandemic. What does a physically distanced party look like? In the past, a holiday get-together meant three things: Shared platters of snacks, turkey leftovers for days and arguments about which is the true Christmas movie: Love, Actually or Die Hard.
Does the Coronavirus spell the death of my favourite seven-layer dip and the turkey and stuffing sandwiches my wife makes for the week after?
One of the founders of Meuwly’s, Peter Keith, believes how we serve snacks may change this holiday season: “The big thing that everyone has been asking for in the last month or two is, ‘Can we do individually sized charcuterie boxes?’ This will be a huge thing for the next year.”
His deli has partnered with the Art of Charcuterie to offer partygoers an alternative to the shared platter of cured meats, locally sourced cheeses, crackers and other snacks. “The focus is on finger foods that you would normally think are perfect for sharing, and we’re trying to make that an individualized experience,” says Keith. “Small bites, big flavour.”
But what about the main event? Will people go through the effort to cook a turkey this year if it’s only for a few people? I’m the kind of chef who finds pouring water over dried ramen noodles too much work, but I love turkey. How can I get my fix without popping a TV Dinner into my microwave?
The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald has people like me covered. Director of Sales and Marketing Danielle Lundy explains one way the hotel is adjusting for the holiday season during the pandemic. In previous years, its Turkey To-Go program offered a full six-to-eight serving turkey dinner for those who might not have the time, energy or culinary “know-how” to prepare a holiday feast.
Lundy notes the program this year will be different: “We recognize that there are going to be couples and smaller family units that are celebrating on their own and not doing the big 12- to 20-person extended family meal. We want to offer more options for this year’s Turkey To-Go program. There will be a variety of meal sizes this year to accommodate everyone.”
As always, the Hotel Macdonald can accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies with its menu offerings. The Turkey To-Go program, which started mid-November, will be available for the festive season until January 3, which, for me, means a holiday feast that does not require me to stand around the microwave with empty bowl in hand, a la Oliver Twist.
Food is one thing, but fashion is another. The Christmas season is an excuse for people to add to their wardrobes. With fewer parties, I wonder if clothes closets will be emptier this season. Not so, claims Deanna Fitzmaurice. She expanded Virtu Boutique during the pandemic and adjusted her operations with physical distancing and reduced hours to allow for cleaning, but this did not stop her customers from coming: “There are still people who see fashion as a way to recharge their batteries. They’re not taking trips or renovating their houses, so they have that bit of extra room in their budget to spend on themselves or others.”
Fitzmaurice points out that while people are still buying new outfits, they want versatility. “People are looking for some-thing they can wear for work and then with a couple changes of a jacket, jewellery or shoes, they can dress it up to make it party-worthy. Dual usage of clothing is so important.” She sees this holiday season as even more special: “Gatherings will be more intimate, and gift giving will be even more meaningful as we share time with the precious people in our lives.”
Over at Theatre Garage, owner Christy Hutchinson predicts an unlikely fashion accessory will become popular this holiday season: “We have to wear masks. Why not make them cheerful and full of holiday spirit? Especially for little kids. It’s less intense. It’s fun.”
Hutchinson has seen an uptick of people looking for festive face masks, and she’s brought in fabric patterns of poinsettias to make Christmas face coverings. She’s been amazed at the creativity of people to adjust their traditions. She predicts that rather than families bringing their kids to Santa’s workshop, St. Nick may be making his way to neighbourhoods to hear what the kids want for Christmas from a physically distanced vehicle. I wonder if that vehicle will be a sleigh or an urban scooter.
Hutchinson’s talk about Santa reminds me of the essential holiday tradition — gift giving. Will we hang our stockings with care only to find them stuffed with hand sanitizer the next morning? Audreys Books’ manager, Kelly Dyer, has noticed the pandemic has changed how Edmontonians give gifts: “People still need books to keep them entertained during the pandemic. Rather than pick up a physical book, they may opt for gift cards at this point so people can pick and choose.”
For those who want to give a book, Audreys’ staff will be available to share their favourites, and the store will continue its book delivery and curbside pick-up service. Dyer also notes that Audreys will honour book returns.
Family gifts are easy to buy, but what about gifts for co-workers? Do gift cards make you look like Seinfeld’s George Costanza handing out donation cards to the Human Fund during Festivus? Jacqueline Jacek of Jacek Chocolate Couture has pivoted to offer individualized gifts with a Holiday Party Box. Rather than a communal box of chocolates for the office to share, each staff member might get an assortment of chocolate bars, a box of chocolate-covered almonds, or two salted caramels in a bag.
Whatever the gifts, Jacek believes the spirit behind them will be the same as it always has been: “People continue to be incredibly kind through the pandemic, and we are seeing so many examples of people reaching out to show their care.”
While holiday celebrations may look different this year, the spirit that brings people together remains the same. If the pandemic is the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we will be the Whos holding hands in latex gloves and lip-syncing through our festive face masks at least two metres from one another.
STYLIST ALYSSA HABCHI
MODELS FROM MODE MODELS
CLOTHING PROVIDED BY
TYVEK SUIT STENCIL BY ALI OF SUKA CLOTHING
PLEXIGLASS COURTESY OF WILLIAM HUFF
This article appears in the December 2020 issue of Edify