Sofia and Gabrielle Pagliaroli, with mother Adele and live reindeer, at Toronto’s St. Simon School. Despite COVID-19, Ontario Catholic schools have kept up the Christmas spirit. Photo courtesy St. Simon School

Pandemic can’t dampen Christmas spirit

By 
  • December 20, 2020

In a year that has been anything but normal, the Christmas spirit is still alive and well at Ontario Catholic schools.

From live reindeer to Advent liturgies, virtual concerts to helping the needy in the community, staff and students are doing their best to maintain the season’s spirit despite the unforeseen circumstances.

At St. Martin of Tours Catholic School in Whitney, Ont., the hallways have been decorated with lights and classroom doors decked out for the holiday season by staff and students. Vice principal Tara McEnery says a virtual Christmas concert and Nativity play was in the works for several weeks with the children from Kindergarten to Grade 8 working hard, refining their acting chops and creating musical numbers amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Technology played a large role in making this happen.

“(We used) a green screen outside so they can take their masks off and then stand two metres apart,” said McEnery, adding that with a small school population the school had more flexibility in orchestrating a virtual holiday production.

Students have been experimenting with technologies like the green screen apps to create a Christmas concert “virtually that still has a play where they’re interacting and talking, but that they’re still abiding by the coded regulations and guidelines.”

Due to restrictions on singing and wind instruments, musical numbers were set to keyboards, percussion and strings, with equipment sanitized between uses. The pre-recorded event was accessible to parents and students via YouTube as of mid-December. 

McEnery is proud students managed to maintain an overall positive attitude despite trying times.

“People get a little bit down (due to COVID-19) and once in a while someone will express some dismay that they can’t be with the particular family member at Christmas that they usually are,” said McEnery. “(COVID-19) is still there as sort of a background, but there’s a lot of activity and a lot of really positive things going on that are fun that I think are keeping the Christmas spirit alive.”

At St. Simon Catholic School in Toronto, in person and virtual has been mixed together with daily virtual Advent liturgies coming to the classrooms due to constraints on large assemblies. Classes have taken part in various decorative crafts and have been creatively getting around restrictions to the music program where instead of singing or playing instruments students have been learning lyrics in sign language and how to become musical conductors. Students and parents have also participated in various Christmas initiatives, including preparing gift packages for the less fortunate.

“We’re putting together baskets for families within our community who might need some support with helping to make this Christmas season a little brighter,” said vice principal Patrizia De Marco. “We have that happening through online donations that our parent communities are contributing to.”

To add a little extra festive cheer, the school organized a live reindeer photoshoot where children could have their photo taken under an outdoor tent. Students and their siblings were able to get a snapshot with the animal surrounded by Christmas décor including a sleigh that was disinfected between photo shoots.

“I think our students have done a fantastic job adhering to the protocols and they understand why they are in place,” said De Marco. “Our staff has done an amazing job ensuring that we have things happening so that students can still feel like this is a happy place to come to.”

St. Paul Catholic Elementary School in Burlington, Ont., has also found a way to work around restrictions this Christmas season. The arts program has been incorporating Christmas into the music curriculum where every class was taught the actions to a song along with accompanying non-wind instruments. Wearing Christmas outfits, performances by each class were recorded and compiled together on a video sent out to parents.

Advent prayers and activities have also continued and the school’s food drive has been collecting non-perishable goods for the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

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