How to have a merry COVID Christmas
From living room Santas to gingerbread fries, here are a few ways to celebrate the holidays
Unless Santa is in your social bubble, sitting in his lap is out of the question.
Shopping at a Christmas market? That’s out too.
Singing in a choir? Forget it.
It’s true. With everything postponed, cancelled or forbidden, the holiday season is looking dreary this year, no matter how loud you crank up the Bing Crosby while the HD log burns in your LED fireplace.
But just because this won’t be a normal winter holiday doesn’t mean it has to be a bad one. At the very least we can make it memorable.
“It’ll be different, but I think we will get through this … And I think we can just have as much joy in the season as we normally have if we just approach it the right way,” says Ivars Taurins, director of Toronto’s Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.
Different this year means no performances of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” nor the immensely popular “Sing-Along Messiah,” a tradition for 33 years.
Yet members of the choir and its sister baroque orchestra performed together last week for the first time this year, for a recorded program called “A Tafelmusik Christmas.” The ticketed, virtual event debuted Thursday.
There will also be a free filmed version of the “Sing-Along Messiah,” recorded at Koerner Hall in 2010, streaming on YouTube beginning Dec. 17. There will be “no bouncing ball” to follow along, Taurins says, but you can download sheet music from the Tafelmusik website to join the choir from home.
“We’re all trying to get a little bit of hygge, this feeling of warmth,” he says. “So we’re hoping that we can reach out with this … virtual offering to keep the home fires burning.”
In that spirit, here are five other ways to celebrate this very COVID holiday.
1. Thanks a latke
Looking to celebrate Hanukkah — which kicked off Thursday — without
having your home smell like a deep fryer for eight crazy nights? Don’t cook. Restaurants around the city are frying up potato latkes and sufganiyot ( jelly doughnuts) but they’re selling out fast. Primrose Bagel Co. caters a full meal for four to six guests with matzo ball soup, latkes, winter salad, braised brisket and pear-walnut babka for $150. Schmaltz Appetizing sells six sufganiyot filled with either blueberry + Manischewitz jelly or apples + honey jelly for $20. And each day of Hanukkah, Taverne Bernhardts is making a holiday care package with nine pressed, perfectly square latkes, house-smoked salmon, dill sour cream, apple sauce, horseradish and a mixed pickle for around $35. They also sell $1 dreidels.
Budget alternative: Free Times Café has got 12 latkes for $20, while Kiva’s Bagels offers a dozen sufganiyot for just $16.50. Such a bargain!
2. Driving lights
You may have noticed the proliferation of drive-through Christmas light tunnels around town, with thousands of colourful winking lights and holiday displays that you enjoy while slowly rolling forward in your car as jingly music plays. These include Polar Drive, set in a multilevel parking garage on Viscount Drive by the airport ($55-$65 per car); the Toronto Zoo’s Holiday Drive-Thru ($20
$25 per car. Bonus: live caribou posing as reindeer!); and Bluffs Winter Wonderland in Scarborough, with a distanced Santa “meet and greet” ($25 per car). Budget alternative: Free, elaborate holiday window displays can be found in the Junction, the Riverside district, the Bloor-Yorkville area and famously at the Bay across from the Eaton Centre.
3. The show must go online
The venues are shut, but at least some of the usual entertainment continues virtually. A filmed version of the National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” can be rented from Cineplex for $30. And Ross Petty’s annual family panto returns with a new silly sequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” But can the effect be the same without an audience booing at the villain and groaning at the jokes? ($35 per household)
Budget alternative: Against the Grain’s “Messiah / Complex,” a new interpretation of the Handel canon, sung in multiple languages and accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. (Dec. 13 to 26, free.)
4. Pause for the Claus
There are no shopping mall Santas, but there are lots of living room Santas this year, beaming into households across the continent from the North Pole via Zoom, but he doesn’t come cheap. If Christmas just won’t be the same with
out checking in with Mr. (and sometimes Mrs.) Claus, book a consultation at visitwiththeclauses.com or get the hoho-whole experience at createholidaymagic.com, which includes virtual family portraits alongside Santa.
Budget alternative: Browse from among the many Santa impersonators on Cameo who will deliver a personalized video message for as little as $10.
5. After market
The beloved Christmas market at the Distillery was cancelled this year, but the popular One of a Kind gift show continues. Unlike the in-person event, the virtual one is free to browse at oneofakind.balluun.com. But you didn’t go all the way there just to browse, did you?
Budget alternative: Stick to festive foods. Get carnival-style Christmas treats for takeout from the pop-up Sweaters n’ Snowflakes from Dec. 10 to 27 at 621 Richmond St. W. Confections include candy cane churros and, um, gingerbread maple cinnamon salted caramel marshmallow fries. We like all of those things but … together? Told you this holiday would be memorable.