COVID-19 keeping many Canadians home for the holidays but some still willing to travel: poll

The song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" may sound more like "I'll Stay Home for Christmas" for many Canadians as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but for some, visiting friends and loved ones is still the plan.

A new poll by the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus, suggests that while the majority of Canadians plan to have a more solitary holiday season and stay within their households this year, about a third still plan to visit others locally and 10 per cent plan to travel outside their communities or province, regardless of health restrictions.

The poll shows 30 per cent of Canadians plan to visit friends or relatives locally this holiday season. Provincially, those figures are high in the Atlantic Provinces, where infection rates are generally low, but 35 per cent of respondents in Quebec and 27 per cent in Ontario are also saying they plan to visit with others within their own communities.

Ten per cent of Canadians said they plan to travel to other towns or provinces this year, including 14 per cent of respondents from Quebec and eight per cent from Ontario.

However, these numbers are far lower than they were pre-pandemic. In 2019, 81 per cent of Canadians said they'd be visiting friends and relatives locally for the holidays and 51 per cent planned to travel.

Still, as COVID-19 cases surge across Ontario and Quebec, and in other parts of Canada, health officials are urging Canadians to keep it small this year and only celebrate with members of their own households.

Silvya Germano and her husband have gone all out this year. Their front lawn is decorated with large inflatable Santas and snowmen, lights, and a big Christmas train.

"It's very very Christmasy this year," says Germano, whose home is on the suitably-named Celebration Street in Ottawa. "Everyone can see it some people we catch taking pictures it's really cute especially the little ones they don't have to touch it they just walk around and see it."

In years past, the festive display would also greet extended family for Christmas, when as many as 30 people would gather. This year, they plan to scale back. Germano says it will only be her and her husband and their two kids.

Joanne and Doug Brown are keeping to their family bubble; however, Christmas will be fairly normal for them this year they already take care of their three grandchildren, which encompasses their whole family. 

The Browns will be heading to church for the Christmas Eve service. Brown attends each Sunday and has been throughout the pandemic, but the poll says attendance compared to last year will likely drop by more than half. 

"Our church in Almonte is at 30 per cent capacity so we've registered," says Brown. "You have to sign in to go in and everything is washed down and very very clean I'm not concerned."

Many still looking forward to holidays despite pandemic

The pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic do not appear to have put a damper on the festive season for most Canadians.

The poll showed that 29 per cent of respondents are still really looking forward to the holidays, compared to 31 per cent in 2019, and 42 per cent are "a little excited about it" compared to 44 per cent last year.

The number of people who either don't care or who are dreading the season has risen, however. Nineteen per cent said they didn't care either way about the holidays, compared to 18 per cent in 2019 and 10 per cent of respondents said they were dreading the season, up from seven per cent last year.

Many other Christmas traditions are continuing, though at a lower level this year compared to pre-pandemic times.

Canadians, largely, still plan to put up Christmas lights, hang stockings, send out cards and donate to charity.

The number of respondents who plan to do none of the usual traditions doubled from three per cent to six per cent this year. The number of Canadians planning to go to church also fell significantly, though likely due to gathering restrictions.

Only two per cent said they'd be attending a workplace Christmas party, down from 50 per cent in pre-pandemic times.

You can view the full poll here.

METHODOLOGY

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI), in partnership with Cardus, conducted an online survey from November 24 – 30, 2020 among a representative randomized sample of 5,003 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 1.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.