From a cottage getaway to fun in your own backyard, there are still many ways to put some cheer into your festive season despite the pandemic
It’s been a year like no other, so why would the holiday season be any different? With COVID-19 still top of mind, most Canadians are looking forward to a 2020 finale that is decidedly low-key.
But is it possible to enjoy the season despite it all? Turns out it is. Whether you’re a couch potato, a fitness aficionado or an adventure buff, there are still many ways to put some fun into your festive season. Here are a few of them.
1. WARM UP IN A COZY COTTAGE
Cottages have always been a prime summer vacation locale, but why not extend the experience into the winter? That’s certainly what CPA Hadia Amrane, treasurer and head of shared services at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ regional jet division (MHIRJ), will be doing. While she won’t be taking vacation—“it is our quarter end,” she says—she’ll be working out of her family’s chalet in the Eastern Townships. She’ll also take December 25 and January 1 off to spend more time with the family and enjoy some outdoor activities—“especially skiing,” she says.
For Montrealer Delphine Coppé de Lajartre and family, the thought of escaping to the country was so alluring that they rented not just for the holidays, but for three months—from mid-December to mid-March. “Since we wanted to rent for the seasonal holidays as well as March break and a few weekends, it was proportionally less expensive to rent for a full three months,” she says.
2. FIND MAGIC IN THE MOUNTAINS
If you have a hankering for a snow-blown adventure with no need to contend with crowds, you can opt for a trip to the mountains in your own private bubble. For example, with Fresh Adventures’ “Ski safari on the Powder Highway,” you can book either on a scheduled basis or privately. As CEO Alex Ross explains, the safari gives skiers a chance to explore the lesser-known areas of B.C., where the mountains “are teeming with fresh, untracked powder and lift lines are nowhere to be seen.”
Another option is the company’s “Ski vacation in a winterized RV.” Here, families set out from Calgary on their own self-guided sightseeing expedition to the Rockies. They can choose to focus on skiing, or try out other activities such as guided snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, fat biking or scenic gondola rides with, as Ross puts it, “mulled wine and million-dollar views at the top.” He adds that the RVs sleep four adults and two kids, and are designed to be used down to -30 degrees C.
3. PLAN A RESORT GETAWAY, CANADIAN STYLE
For vacationers who are used to hopping down to the Caribbean for a sun holiday but are leery of making the trip this year, a made-in-Canada resort or hotel vacation could be the perfect replacement. As Allison Wallace, VP, corporate communication and CSR for the Americas at Flight Centre Travel Group, points out, “This is a great opportunity for Canadians to explore their own backyard without the competition of U.S. or international travellers.”
As for specific locales, Wallace says there are many possibilities, such as Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn, the Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet, B.C., Victoria’s Empress Hotel and the Hotel Quintessence in Mont Tremblant. Then of course, you might prefer a trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears.
Wallace adds that she would definitely recommend places that are off the beaten track: “That helps with physical distancing and encourages people to visit places they might not normally see,” she says.
4. TAKE A WALK (OR SKI) IN THE PARK
Looking for a memorable experience that doesn’t involve a multi-day excursion? Then a trip to a national park might be in order. Montrealers can choose from several nearby options, including the Parc National du Mont-Orford, while Calgarians have Banff National Park almost on their doorstep. And in Ontario, many day tourists and others like to head to Algonquin Park.
What to do? Sights and activities will obviously vary somewhat from park to park, but for Algonquin, a day trip might look something like this, according to Rick Stronks, assistant superintendent for the park’s Discovery Program:
- Pack a lunch, as well as your gear (there are no rentals or restaurants).
- Arrive around 10 a.m. to get a day-use permit, then-hike a scenic trail, such as the Spruce Bog Boardwalk (1.5 km).
- Stop at the Algonquin Visitor Centre, which features historical exhibits and realistic dioramas of Algonquin’s wildlife.
- Enjoy a memorable meal outdoors, then engage in some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. (Skating may also be available.)
- Tour the Mew Lake campground to see how people do winter camping. “Maybe it will inspire you to give it a try,” says Stronks.
5. STAY AND PLAY
Traditionally, the holidays have been largely a home-based affair, and there are still many activities you can enjoy without leaving your own backyard.
For example, snow-stymied cycling enthusiasts can join what appears to be a growing trend toward indoor cycling. You can either set your regular bike up on a trainer, or hop on a smart bike that’s designed for indoor use.
For those who prefer to be outdoors, why not build your own backyard rink? Kits are widely available, and YouTube can be a great guide. To warm up after your skate, consider investing in a fire pit—likely to be another big seasonal trend.
Then, of course, you don’t need to go outside at all. Some board games allow you to travel the world from the safety of your coffee table. Or you can curl up for an on-screen viewing of The Nutcracker—complete with interviews and add-ons. And even though most New Year’s events will be a no-show, you’ll still be able to attend the ball drop in Times Square—virtually, of course.
6. MAKE AND BAKE
There’s nothing like the holiday season to bring out the craft maker in us.
Pre-COVID, Karen Sherlock would devote her kitchen table to gift-card making with good friend Shirlene Vella or granddaughter Adelaide. And this year, all three are still making cards on their own. As Sherlock points out, supplies (patterned paper, card stock, stamps, glitter) are available online and in craft stores. “You can’t go wrong!” she says.
Apart from knitting and crocheting, Sherlock also likes scrapbooking: “I put together our family recipes and gave the albums to my daughter and daughter-in-law as gifts,” she says. “They’re still using them.”
For Vella, making masks has become an important activity this season: “I bought the fabric in the summer, fingers crossed that I wouldn’t need to make masks with a Christmas theme—but was I ever wrong!”
Of course, no holiday season would be complete without baking. Vella will be whipping up chocolate-dipped Oreo cookies and other treats, while Sherlock will dip into her “tried and true” recipes, many passed down from her mother. She also likes to make cake pops. “They’re really popular—and fun for kids to decorate (and eat!)” she says.
For both Vella and Sherlock, touring their neighbourhoods to view all the festive lights is a treasured annual tradition. “I’ve also hung my own lights and begun to decorate both indoors and out,” says Sherlock. “But I’m not putting everything out this year. Hopefully, we can look forward to a big festive bash in 2021!”
’TIS THE HOLIDAY SEASON
Want to find out more about Canadians’ spending expectations for the festive season? Check out CPA Canada’s Holiday Spending Survey. And for more on holiday planning during COVID-19, see How to celebrate the holidays with your team despite the pandemic.