Grinch costumes and virtual celebrations: How Manitobans remember pandemic-era holiday seasons

From family holiday dinners preceded by rapid tests, to shopping for gifts online when “non-essential” items were off-limits in store, the last two Decembers were certainly different for Manitobans.

This holiday season is the first in a long time without any public health restrictions, and it has some people in the province counting their blessings following two challenging Decembers.

But it also has people looking back to what those holidays were like when public health was top of mind.

Amy Coulling says December 2020 was her first Christmas with her foster son, and she had hoped to spend it cozy indoors with family, enjoying delicious food.

Instead they drove from their home in Somerset, Man., to Winnipeg to have an outdoor fire with family and they missed out on the Christmas dinner.

“We met with them briefly out in the backyard, but we couldn’t go in the house and we had our boxes of presents that we exchanged and then we pretty much just went back to Somerset,” Coulling said.

A teenager holds up a onesie while standing next to a Christmas tree and gifts.
Amy Coulling and her foster are opened gifts, including these pajamas, over Zoom with the rest of the family on Christmas Eve in 2020. The next morning, everyone wore their matching pajamas over Zoom again. (Submitted by Amy Coulling)

On Christmas morning, they all gathered on Zoom, along with her brother and sister-in-law who live in Tokyo. That was the first time they could participate in the celebrations from Japan, Coulling said.

“Everyone was opening their presents… all of us were kind of there together, even though it was by video chat,” she said. “That’s the one silver lining of what happened.”

‘Still saying prayers all together’

Winnipeg’s Matthew Ostrove says his first Hanukkah during the pandemic was quite an adjustment.

“We always celebrated with family intimately and lighting the candles, and listening to songs, and eating the food of Hanukkah together, in person, so virtual was quite a different, challenging event,” he told CBC News.

Ostrove said those eight nights taught him a lot about patience and flexibility.

Six children sit on a beige couch wearing Hanukkah-themed pajamas
Matthew Ostrove says it was wonderful to gather in person with his family this year to celebrate Hanukkah. In previous years, COVID-19 restrictions forced the family gatherings to go online. (Submitted by Matthew Ostrove)

“I took it upon myself to say we’re still seeing the family on screens, we’re still saying the prayers all together, we’re still seeing the lights, but it’s different because we have to keep everyone safe,” he said .

This Hanukkah has been filled with family and in-person gatherings for Ostrove, which has been a welcome change.

“It was definitely more special because you’re seeing all the cousins ​​playing with each other.”

For others, the holidays were a chance to be silly and lighten people’s moods during a tough time.

A person dressed in a Grinch costume is seen dancing outside of a Pet Valu store
Kelly Johnson says she enjoyed bringing joy to people in and around the Pet Valu where she works by dressing up as the Grinch during the holidays last year. (Submitted by Kelly Johnson)

Last December, Kelly Johnson dressed up as the Grinch and danced outside the Winnipeg Pet Valu where she works.

“It was amazing the reaction of people. Because cars were driving by and honking their horns and waving, and people were coming up and asking if they could get their picture taken with the Grinch,” she said.

“It was overall really, really a happy feeling and it was a fun thing to do.”

Winnipeg’s Christine Ranick recalls the months leading up to Christmas in 2020, when public health officials made stores tape off certain items deemed non-essential, which made shopping in-person for holiday gifts challenging.

A plate of Christmas dinner, including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables, is pictured on a red tablecloth.
Christine Ranick says she was grateful to gather with family members in 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions had eased up. That year, her family de ella gathered at Ranick’s daughter’s restaurant for a meal with all the fixings. (Submitted by Christine Ranick)

“We couldn’t buy Christmas cards and things like that, and it was crazy. I know why they did it, but it made it very difficult for everybody,” she said.

She recalls feeling lonely for family that year, but the next Christmas they gathered at her daughter’s restaurant—seated spaced apart at one long table—and shared a meal together.

“We had a wonderful get-together, but it was a very safe get-together,” Ranick said.

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