This week, SaltWire will bring you the stories of some of the families who won’t be able to be together this Christmas due to COVID-19, and how they’ll celebrate this very different holiday instead.
JD Gilmour’s parents were born on Prince Edward Island but ended up raising their family in Ontario, returning to the red shores every summer.
Eventually, it stuck, and Gilmour settled on the Island while the rest of his family remained in Ontario.
Each year, he sets aside as much vacation as he can in order to get back to Ontario from his home in Charlottetown, often spending two-and-a-half weeks with his family.
“We’re your typical big East Coast family, just transplanted into the suburbs of Toronto," says Gilmour. "My mom’s got four brothers and sisters. I'm the oldest of 18 grandkids. We probably get together ten times over the Christmas holidays as the big group.”
And they don't hesitate to deck the halls.
“We’re pretty nuts about Christmas decorations. My mom usually has a 50-foot live tree out in the front yard that’s all lit up. She has a guy with a boom truck come to do it,” says Gilmour. “Also a 17-foot tree in her great room, and in the dining room, an entire Dickens’ Village set up. Our whole house gets Christmafied. It’s a big family production just to do it.”
No big East Coast family gathering is complete without a game of cards. The Arsenaults, his mom’s side of the family, play euchre. As with all family tournament games, the aim is not merely to have fun - the goal is to secure bragging rights.
“We are huge euchre fans down there, we have a big euchre tournament, so that’s a big seller for us,” says Gilmour. “We lord it over each other well into the summer.”
Gilmour is going to have to wait another year to strive for bragging rights. Because of COVID, he won’t be travelling home this year. It’s an especially difficult one to miss.
“I'm pretty bummed. I plan for this vacation all year. We had the sad reality of saying goodbye to my grandmother in May. I wasn’t able to be home for that and I was really close with my grandparents,” he says.
“I'm feeling sad for myself and definitely a little frustrated and disappointed, but also kind of sad and a little guilty. I want to be there for my family, for my mom in her first Christmas without her mom.”
Although he can’t be home for Christmas, Gilmour is determined to make the best of what he has. Spending Christmas with his boyfriend’s family will help. But he’s also going to spread as much cheer as he can to others.
“It sounds kind of hokey, but a little bit of service anyway. If I can’t be there for Christmas with my family, doing things that help other people have a good holiday. My coworkers and I, somebody’s got to cover Christmas Eve, so I’ll volunteer to do that, because a lot of them have kids, so that’ll mean they get the day at home with their families.”
Gilmour might not have a 50-foot tree to work with, but he’s going to try to do his mother proud regardless.
“I’ll still decorate. Usually, I don’t bother too much, but I’ll probably go nuts here with the Christmas lights. I have 800 I think, I bought 300 more last week. So I might be the reason why there’s brownouts in Charlottetown.”
COVID has pushed gifts out of Gilmour’s mind. The sharp shock of this year has carved away the excess and left the core of what he wants out of Christmas.
“It kind of reprioritized a lot of things in a good way for people, the value of being able to spend time together and get together. This sounds like a Hallmark movie, but it’s kind of like sussed out the real meaning of Christmas again," he says.
"People keep asking for a Christmas list - ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ I just want to go home.”