Fear of the spread of COVID-19 seems to have led to the cancellation of another Christmas parade in Newfoundland and Labrador — but this time, it’s the participants rather than organizers who were reluctant.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s town council was prepared to throw their annual Santa Claus parade on Saturday, according to Coun. Jackie Compton Hobbs.
There was only one problem: they couldn’t find enough floats.
“The number was very, significantly low. I can tell you that,” she said. “In the past, we’ve had 20, 30, 40 floats,”
“I’m assuming people didn’t enter this year because of COVID, and the gathering … I’m assuming people were nervous with COVID, and that’s why the numbers were low on entries.”
The cancellation was announced on Friday evening, a little over a week from the parade. The town had the theme picked out, and was preparing a social distancing plan to keep participants safe.
Compton Hobbs said many of the usual participants were still reluctant, a fear she understands. While the event was planned as a static, drive-thru parade, some people may have felt they needed to gather to create and decorate the floats themselves, and perform on the floats if required.
‘We would have been all over it’
She said the parade had become a yearly tradition in the community, and could not recall a cancellation. She said it usually drew hundreds if not thousands of people.
But this year, she said, “It wouldn’t make much sense to set up a section of the road, and have a drive-by static Santa Claus parade with a very low number of floats.
“It’s out of our control,” she concluded. “We would have been all over it.”
WATCH | Garrett Barry reports on how COVID has thwarted Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s plans:
Business booming for photographer
While interest in float-making has cratered, other bubble-aligned activities have seen a big boost this season.
Rebecca Willcott, a photographer in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, says her Christmas bookings are up about 30 per cent since last year.
“I feel like there’s more appreciation now, more than ever, for really nice family pictures,” she said. “I don’t know if that has to do with Zoom calls or COVID or whatnot, but I just feel like people are appreciating really beautiful quality family photos.”
COVID-19 has brought changes to her business, too. Earlier this year she invested in longer zoom lenses, so she could stand further away from clients. She’s also moved out of her home studio into a commercial space in the community, so as to avoid too much contact inside her personal space.
And she believes the travel restrictions and precautions brought by COVID-19 has led to a small boost in her clientele.
“I feel it’s also, like, a wanting to connect with their families from away, too,” she said. “A lot of people are getting pictures done so they can send them to their families, you know, across Canada and anywhere else. We’ve got people who we know that are shipping pictures to England, for instance.”
Other groups are trying to push ahead with their Christmas traditions — with many modifications — in light of what they describe as a challenging year.
“Something so simple as going to the store and sitting on Santa’s lap, obviously that’s not going to happen,” said Jill Elson, a community service worker at the Labrador Friendship Centre. “So It’s very important to at least try to get some of our children out at…a different Christmas party.”
It will look quite different: Santa will be protected by a barrier and six feet of distance from the children at the party, but Elson said she hopes it provides a bit of support to families during a strange year.
It’s a similar story for the centre’s annual senior social, which usually draws between 200 and 300 people. The party has been split up into separate events, to make sure the gathering limit is not breached.
The centre is also going to ensure people are seated in their own bubbles, with sufficient social distancing.
‘It’s isolating enough’ as it is
Megan McLean, who is organizing the seniors’ dinner for the Labrador Friendship Centre, said she had had 100 registrations, but people are “cancelling by the day.”
However, she’s committed to seeing it through, if it’s allowed.
“I think it’s very important, this year of all years,” she said. “Mental health really. When it comes to seniors as well, like they’re just stuck in the house. I’m not referring to all, but for the most part, it’s isolating enough.”
Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s town council has organized other Christmas events, too, which Compton Hobbs now hopes will supplement the loss of the Santa Claus parade.
On Thursday night, it will hold a tree-lighting ceremony by Facebook. The town council is also planning to re-open the outdoor skating loop that it had launched in March, just before the COVID-19 outbreak forced its closure.
In Kinsmen Park, opposite the town hall, the public will be wowed by the lights, Compton Hobbs said.
“That’s going to be lit up like the Griswolds,” she said with a laugh, referring to the family in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “I’m hoping the community is really going to enjoy it.
“To us, it’s unfortunate we didn’t get the entries…but we’re going to do our very very best to keep the spirit in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Christmas spirit alive.”