Gail and Peter Stelter celebrated Christmas with their extended family just a few months ago. The socially-distanced, outdoor summer celebration was out-of-season, with COVID-19 delaying the festivities multiple times.

“Such is life in COVID times,” said Gail. This year, the Stelters are excited to welcome their family from the GTA back to the Highlands for Christmas in season.

“It’s really special for us, and it’s a lot of fun,” Gail said.

All of the Stelters’ eligible family members are double vaccinated, and their gathering will be under the HKPR recommended number of 25 guests for indoor private gatherings.

“Everything we are asked to do is for our own protection and the protection of people we love,” she said.


In a Dec. 8 press release, chief medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking said “the reality is that we are still in a pandemic and with the new Omicron variant, we must remain vigilant to stop the spread. Small gatherings, smart planning and safe practices are the best ways to make the season merry and bright.”

For Haliburton’s Betty Mills, gathering still feels “a little bit scary, even with all the precautions we’ve decided to take.”

Mills and her husband David Mills will welcome extended family back into their home. Just like the Stelters, COVID-19 safety will be a priority: they’ll have a soup and beef on a bun meal, “so there’s not a lot of contact, bowls being passed around or shared cutlery,” Betty said.

Instead of their usual “steal a gift game,” which requires passing presents back and forth, David said each family member will donate $15 and name a charity: the winner of a draw gets all the money to donate to the charity of their choice.

Some of the couple’s great-grandchildren who aren’t vaccinated won’t be coming: both the Mills and the children’s parents decided it was the best route to protect all involved.

“Family-wise, we’ve all been pretty diligent,” said David.

Despite extra work planning a safer Christmas this year, the Stelters and Mills said they’re both excited and grateful to be able to see family face-to-face this year.

“The spirit of Christmas is to be thankful,” Gail said.

HKPR tips for safe Christmas gatherings

The HKPR health unit outlined a few tips for safe Christmas gatherings this year:

• Reminding guests to stay home if they feel sick, even if symptoms are mild.

• Encouraging people to frequently wash their hands by providing all necessary supplies, including hand sanitizer, soap and water.

• Keeping a list of attendees in case the Health Unit needs this information for contact tracing.

• Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces frequently.

• Following all rules and requirements at an eatery if the visit with family and friends involves eating at a restaurant. This includes providing proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

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