Thoughts on a very different holiday season during pandemic

When the calendar moves to December, I start thinking about all my favorite holiday foods and what makes them special. Our first Holiday Season with COVID forces us to really examine the best way to continue important food traditions and customs and add in some new twists. Taking a closer look at alternative options for sharing food this year, that nevertheless allow us to celebrate our food traditions, and keep us connected, might just allow us to continue the Holiday Spirit.

The big dinners with loads of friends and relatives snuggled into the host’s home for hours of talking, laughing, and of course eating, is not ok, and personally I’m very sad about that. Buffet style food sharing has been identified as a higher risk activity. Hosting or participating in in-person get togethers needs to be avoided. Alternatives, however, can be put in place so we can still take pleasure in our festivities.  Here are some suggestions to get you thinking of how to connect and find ways to celebrate the season.

Sharing food is really important to us.  The smells and taste of something special you only eat once a year with your family makes you feel grounded and provides a deep sense of belonging.  This year, try email, text or Facebook messaging an electronic copy of a special recipe as a way to share with each other.  You could also take a picture of an old recipe and share the photo.  This lets you make something you know you like to eat while promoting a feeling of togetherness, which we are all craving for this holiday season. It is a sad thing to lose a family meal but being able to recreate a tasty memory with an electronic copy of a recipe, is a convenient way to keep a tradition alive or share in someone else’s tradition.

Baking together over a Zoom call or FaceTime could be a way to connect with loved ones near and far. I have family in Northern Ontario and on the West Coast and I plan to do this with them this holiday season. Even at the best of times we rarely spend the holidays together, but with COVID we have no choice but to hold a virtual ‘get together’. The ‘preparation’ for this is important.  Try to create a checklist to decide 1) what video platform to use 2) how to set it up on your device 3) what food to make 4) what ingredients to purchase 5) what equipment is required,  and of course 6) what day/time to start. Perhaps setting a time limit (goal) will be helpful. For the kids in the family, or those with shorter attention spans, a more specific video call for something like cookie decorating would be fun.

Enjoying a meal together while being apart, by cooking the same dinner menu or ordering from the same restaurant or caterer, is bonding. The experience can be shared through any number of electronic platforms or even simply through a speaker phone call. The dinner conversation, the grace, the cheers, the airing of grievances, the comradery can all be enjoyed as usual, but in a slightly modified way.  If you have a large group, > 30 people, our community partner Growing Chefs! have a Holiday meal available to order for pickup, and the use of local ingredients to make this delicious sounding meal is definitely worth a look,

Consider food gifts from your favorite bakery or specialty food shop. Try putting together a food hamper or gift box with a personal theme, to create a sincere and thoughtful gift.  There is a multitude of food subscription boxes to order online with offerings like, tea, hot sauce, cheese and snacks. My personal preference is the gift of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription, a gift that keeps on giving and a great introduction to the concept. Not to mention, it’s a conversation starter to bring awareness to our local foods.  Of course, who would not love an e-gift of a take away meal from a local restaurant.

My plans for this holiday season are simple, I will be with the people I live with (husband and kids) and have some meals with my mother.  I will not be hosting an event or sharing food, but I will be virtually present and as usual cooking and eating, just a little bit too much.  I plan to make a video of myself baking a mincemeat pie, which I will send to my father in Alberta.  I will be feeding the birds and squirrels outside my kitchen window, because I like to watch them eat.  I will have a fruit and vegetable advent where we will eat something different every day in December. Lastly, I will go through all my food cupboards and check expiration dates and use things up in my Christmas menus.

However, we choose to recognize our first COVID Holiday Season, remember to shop and support local as much as possible. Get outside as you are able, to be active and enjoy the scenes.  Most of all enjoy preparing and eating the traditional holiday foods you know and love. Reach out to loved ones by phone, text, or video call to let them know you care.  We may discover that the Holiday Spirit lives in places we did not expect.

— Susan Smith

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