COVID Christmas: High anxiety around surging infections, but many won’t commit to staying home for the holidays

by David Korzinski | December 7, 2020 12:00 am

For those who mark Christmas religiously, many will turn to tech and scripture in lieu of church

December 7, 2020 – From “Let it snow” to “Let it end”. From “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” to “We’ll have to muddle through, somehow[1]”.

This year, as with everything, COVID-19 has changed the focus of the Christmas season. Top of mind topics in a pre-pandemic world might have centred on the economic or environmental impacts of the holidays. Now, it is focused more on difficult and often gut-wrenching decisions on whether to spend the holidays with family or friends.

New data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus[2], show that while most are choosing a more solitary rather than merry Christmas, a significant segment still plan to visit people outside their household, either locally or out of province.

Three-in-ten say they will be visiting with friends and family outside of their households locally. This includes 35 per cent in both Alberta and Quebec, where daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections are regularly setting records.

Potentially even more troubling, one-in-ten Canadians, including more than one-in-eight Albertans and one-in-seven Quebecers, are still planning to travel outside of their communities for the holidays.

More Key Findings:

About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.



Part One: COVID Concerns Continue

Part Two: Holidays During the Pandemic


Part One: COVID Concerns Continue

With the second wave of COVID-19 crashing through the country, Canadians’ anxiety remains elevated. Record levels of positive cases have been seen all across the nation, with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba bearing the worst of the recent cases on a per capita basis, and Atlantic Canadians temporarily disbanding the four-province bubble that had allowed for free movement in that region.

With the holidays approaching, two-thirds say they are concerned about potentially becoming ill. These levels are slightly below those registered in April, when the virus was more of an unknown quantity. One-in-four (25%) say they are very concerned about the potential of sickness, led by those over the age of 54, as has been the case in previous data (see detailed tables).[3]

Time with family is a defining aspect of the holiday season. As public health officials in most of the country ask people to stay home whenever possible and interact only with their households, concern over illness potentially affecting others is high. Four-in-five (81%) say they worry about friends or family becoming sick, a number unchanged since cases began to rise in September:

Most are greatly reducing their social circles

Across Canada provincial leaders have asked their constituents to reduce their social circles in order to stem the rise in positive cases. The good news is that most have taken this request to heart. Only 14 per cent of Canadians say they have been seeing more than five people from outside of their household over the past few weeks. By contrast, , in August, half of the population was socializing with groups of that size. More than three-in-five Canadians now say they are seeing two or fewer people from outside of their household:

Commitment to smaller social circles varies by region. In Manitoba, where the government has asked residents not to see anyone outside of their household, 54 per cent say they are doing so, while 40 per cent are seeing one to five people in addition to those they live with. In British Columbia, 44 per cent of residents are only seeing members of their own households. The proportion rises on the prairies and in central Canada. Those in Atlantic Canada are also more likely to be seeing more people, but have dealt with far fewer cases of COVID-19:

Three-quarters expecting the worst to come

In June, after the national COVID-19 curve had largely been flattened, a firm majority of Canadians (59%) felt that the worst of the sickness was over. In September, when it became evident that a second wave was being realized, those opinions reversed, with 64 per cent feeling the opposite and expecting more negative health impacts for the country. That number has now increased to three-quarters (74%). The death toll in Canada has now surpassed 12,000[4] and the country is averaging more than 6,000[5] new cases per day, compared to a first wave peak of 1,800.

While majorities in every region of the country are preparing for the worst, the mood is decidedly more optimistic in Quebec, where the first wave[6] of the virus was particularly devastating. That province, however, continues to deal with rising cases that well outweigh those recorded in the spring.

Economic anxiety high

The same increase in anxiety is noted when considering the economic aspects of the pandemic. More than four-in-five Canadians (84%) expect a worsening of economic conditions, which have contributed to the federal government recently reporting a $381 billion[7] deficit projected for 2021.

To understand the breadth of economic concern, consider these data by region. At least 73 per cent of residents in every region of the country expect that harder economic times will follow:

Personal financial worry highest in Alberta

Turning to the personal side of the financial anxiety, seven-in-ten (70%) say they are worried about their own finances and how they will be affected in the coming months. These worries are most acute in Alberta (46% very concerned), Saskatchewan (39%), and Ontario (39%), but are common everywhere.

Part Two: Holidays During the Pandemic

Christmas a welcome time of year, even if it’s different

The holidays in 2020 present immense challenges for Canadians, as they have been asked to forego traditions and stay at home. Despite these changes, however, Canadians are looking forward to the season just as much as they normally would:

Most, but not all, plan to follow recommended guidelines

This time of year, whether one celebrates religiously or festively, is host to innumerable traditions. Family dinners, workplace parties and church services are an integral part of Christmas. This year, however, is not normal. Compared to last year, family dinners, visits with relatives locally and around the country, workplace parties and church services are all going to be greatly reduced.

Perhaps most important for public health officials this year is that Canadians stay where they are, rather than risk spreading the coronavirus between communities with holiday travel. In a normal year, half of Canadians (51%) would travel between communities or out of province to see friends and family, while this year just 10 per cent say they will:

Despite these requests to avoid intra and interprovincial travel, 14 per cent of Quebec residents and 12 per cent of Albertans say they will do so. Those proportions are twice as high as they are in Manitoba (5%) or British Columbia (6%).

Further, three-in-ten (30%) say they will visit with friends and family locally. This is a fraction of the pre-pandemic proportion (81%) but may increase the likelihood of post-holiday public health challenges:

Concern about the coronavirus has an immense effect on Christmas plans. Though they represent a smaller portion of the population (19%), those who are not worried about friends or family becoming sick are twice as likely to visit friends locally, and three-times as likely to be traveling outside of their community:

In Canada, it’s still “Christmas”, but it’s not primarily religious

For the vast majority of Canadians, this time of year is the Christmas season, rather than the non-denominational “holiday season”. It is worth noting, however, the changing demographics of this nomenclature:

That said, just because it is Christmas, does not necessarily mean that Canadians are observing the season from a faith-based perspective. Indeed, just 10 per cent of Canadians say this time of year is primarily religious for them, though another three-in-ten (30%) say it is both religious and more non-faithfully festive:

Religious observers are going to make changes

For those who are viewing the season from a faith-based perspective, this is another in a year of challenges. Just as with Easter observances[8], religious Canadians are turning to technology to connect with their communities.

Indeed, 45 per cent of those who view the season religiously or go to church say that they are going to follow a service online this year. Those 55 years of age and older are particularly interested in utilizing this approach: 51 per cent say they will. Notably, younger observers are twice as likely to say they will be using an app for prayer or meditation.

More than two-in-five (44%) are going back to the basics. This group say they will pray at home or simply rely on scripture or holy texts during the season.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.[9]

For detailed results by COVID-19 concern, click here.[10]

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.[11]

To read the questionnaire, click here.[12]

Image – Rod Long/Unsplash


Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693[13] @shachikurl

Daniel Proussalidis, Director of Communications: 613.899.5174 [14]


  1. We’ll have to muddle through, somehow:
  2. Cardus:
  3. (see detailed tables).:
  4. surpassed 12,000:
  5. more than 6,000:
  6. first wave:
  7. $381 billion:
  8. Easter observances:
  9. click here.:
  10. click here.:
  11. click here.:
  12. click here.:
  14. :

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