A group wearing Santa hats stops to take a selfie next to snowmen displayed at the Distillery District in Toronto on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. The most wonderful time in a not-so-wonderful year has arrived and Canadians from coast to coast aren’t letting the pandemic put a damper on their Christmas spirit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

A group wearing Santa hats stops to take a selfie next to snowmen displayed at the Distillery District in Toronto on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. The most wonderful time in a not-so-wonderful year has arrived and Canadians from coast to coast aren’t letting the pandemic put a damper on their Christmas spirit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Spirit of Christmas still alive as hundreds of Canadians give the gift of giving

The most wonderful time in a not-so-wonderful year has arrived and Canadians from coast to coast aren’t letting the pandemic put a damper on their Christmas spirit. Many have found creative ways to celebrate while still in the throes of COVID-19’s second wave.

In Iqaluit, Nunavut, Sheila Flaherty thawed a piece of polar bear meat, or nanuq in Inuktitut, to serve to her family on Christmas Day.

“It’s as big as a ham. It’s huge,” she said.

“We might have to saw the bone to fit it in the big crockpot or use two crockpots.”

She planned to braise the meat and serve it with steam buns, tarts and a wreath cake.

Flaherty, an Inuk chef and entrepreneur, harvested the animal in September outside Iqaluit. It was her first polar bear catch.

She usually flies to Ottawa for Christmas to see her son and father, but she’ll be spending it with her husband’s family up north this year.

Alex Watts, a former homeless man, is spending time with his family in Vancouver.

Every year, Watts helps others in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside have the kind of Christmas he would have wanted when he was homeless. As part of his Hope And Love For You event, he gives away bagged lunches, gifts and cards to those who would otherwise get nothing.

Watts also managed to get hampers full of food, toys, toques, mitts and scarves to 13 families after reaching out to churches and individuals for donations. He delivered the last one on Tuesday.

“I’m a father for the first time in sobriety, so I get to spend Christmas Day with my little one and be there when he opens his gifts in the morning. That’s extra special for me,” Watts said.

In Alberta, paying it forward overtook this holiday season as hundreds of volunteers worked to provide food, gifts and clothing donated in record-breaking numbers.

The Christmas Bureau of Edmonton marked its 80th birthday by providing 45,000 people with Christmas meals.

“We saw a 15 per cent increase (in families needing help), which was unprecedented for us, We usually only see a two to five per cent increase year to year,” said the charity’s spokeswoman Katherine Stavropoulos.

Mohan Thomas from Mississauga, Ont., usually congregates with family members from other parts of the province to attend midnight Christmas mass at Merciful Redeemer Parish.

This year, however, he will be attending the church alone.

He was able to make a reservation for the church’s Christmas Day communion service, which was booked up within minutes online.

“Every year, I normally go for the midnight mass because the rituals are different from the morning mass,” he said. “But everything is shut down. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Religious ceremonies are limited to 10 people indoors in Ontario’s Peel Region, making it impossible for the church to hold a full Christmas Day mass.

Owen Keenan, the church’s pastor, says hundreds of people usually attend, but this year it will only be held virtually.

For Jon Stanfield, chief executive of Stanfield’s Ltd., it’s been an exhausting year that’s involved extensive changes at his firm.

The factory in Truro, N.S., best known for its underwear, pivoted to protective clothing for front-line health workers. It had produced more than three million protective gowns by the end of October.

In the days before Christmas, Stanfield joined with 20 employees to load $1.5 million worth of clothing and underwear on trucks to deliver to the Salvation Army’s central depot in Toronto. From there, the garments are delivered to homeless shelters across the country.

“I wanted to provide clothing for the backs and bums of more people that may be in need this year … largely because of COVID-19 and job loss,” he said.

Rev. Kyle Wagner, rector of Christ Church Anglican Church in Dartmouth, N.S., said having Christmas services online feels strange, but is necessary with the virus still circulating.

It will be the first time his historic church, constructed in 1817, has closed on Christmas Eve since the Halifax explosion in 1917.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2020.

— With files from Emma Tranter in Iqaluit, Camille Bains in Vancouver, Denise Paglinawan in Toronto and Michael Tutton in Halifax

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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