COVID-19 Christmas celebrations looking very different than holidays past

Family is extremely important to Heather Desjardins.

Her parents are just a five-minute drive away and up until a few weeks ago, the tight-knit family — in a pandemic bubble together — would gather weekly for Sunday dinner. They were keeping their contacts limited to ensure one of the most important dinner guests, her 93-year-old grandmother, would be kept safe at the suppers, even during a pandemic.

And for her, gathering for the holidays is paramount. But this year, like many across the country, those holiday celebrations will look very different.

The room may seem bigger, as family usually Saskatoon-bound from Alberta won’t be in attendance, the meal will be a bit smaller and timeless gatherings like Christmas mass are out of the question.

“That’s really hard,” said Desjardins. “But even on a bigger scale, these are people that support us emotionally and if we can’t get together on Christmas, I think that will have a big impact on everyone.”

Desjardins said holiday celebrations and time with family are one of the many things that help get her through Saskatchewan’s cold, dark winter. While she’s still planning a small four-person dinner for her family, she’s hoping cases will fall enough over the next few weeks to the point her bubble of eight can be together again. 

Current restrictions in place until mid-December prohibit private gatherings of more than five people, and while the restrictions are set to be reviewed closer to Christmas, there’s a chance they still could be in place when people are set to celebrate.

Over the last month alone, the number of active cases in the province has jumped by more than 380 per cent, with 3,263 active cases recorded on Nov. 27, compared to 652 cases 30 days earlier.

Boryski’s Butcher Block, located on Millar Ave. in Saskatoon, is preparing pandemic-sized meals for families who are having smaller Christmas celebrations this year due to the pandemic. (Supplied by Erin Boryski )

In preparation for a holiday season that looks very different due to the pandemic, family-owned Boryski’s Butcher Block in Saskatoon has prepared pandemic-sized meals that may be perfect for those set to hold a smaller celebration.

“For many of us, so many of our holiday memories are really tied to that dinner and we all have those family favourites that we’re just used to on the holidays,” said Erin Boryski, a spokesperson for the shop.

The smaller meals are perfect for families from two to five, though it may not be a giant turkey holding the position of centre piece at this year’s holiday table, Boryski said. 

Boryski said while the business has seen a slowdown when it comes to catering large holiday and year-end events, there are businesses trying to ensure their employees are celebrated over the holidays, even if there’s no chance of a workplace bash.

“We’re offering things like gift baskets at all price ranges. We’ve had orders for hams and turkeys and things for those employees from corporations,” said Boryski. “So I think everybody is doing their best within the new restrictions just to make sure their employees are safe.” 

Boryski’s Butcher Block isn’t the only food supplier in Saskatchewan that has their holiday sales slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prairie Meats supplies hotel chains, restaurants and other venues across the province, and CEO Casey Collins said a lot of larger holiday celebrations are on hold. 

Collins said the pandemic has had a “huge effect” on the industry overall, noting while many conference centres and hotels are usually preparing for the holiday rush at this time of year, that just hasn’t been the case in 2020. 

“Unfortunately, it’s looking nothing like it did last year,” he said. 

Collins said while the food service side of the business has dropped off, they’re keeping busy on the retail side and he said overall the atmosphere at the producer has stayed positive.

It’s a much different blip and the circumstances are much different, but they’ve always been kind of fighting that uphill battle.Casey Collins, CEO of Prairie Meats

While COVID-19 has been difficult, Collins said those in the industry are no stranger to facing and overcoming challenges. 

“The people of Saskatchewan, especially in this industry, have been through so many tough times throughout the years that this is just another blip on the radar,” he said. “It’s a much different blip and the circumstances are much different, but they’ve always been kind of fighting that uphill battle.”

Collins said the industry in the province has been defined by its resilience time and time again, and he’s confident they will be able to continue to adapt during the pandemic.

“The owners and the operators and the people we deal with, they’ve kept a very positive attitude about this and worked with the government and just shown we’re able to change and adjust to survive.”

(CBC News Graphics)

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