Visitors of the Sooke Fine Art Show check out an art piece. This year, the Sooke Fine Art Show is switching to an online platform in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jack Most/Sooke News Mirror)

Difficult times highlight resilience in Sooke traditions

Many annual events disrupted to COVID-19; community finds creative ways to keep spirit alive

Dawn Gibson

Major world events like the coronavirus pandemic can disrupt traditions, but the resiliency of humans makes them hard to break.

The pandemic has taken a toll on many Sooke traditions, such as Canada Day, Easter, graduations, and even smaller-scale rituals such as birthdays, church services, or simply coming together for a meal with family.

It is unlikely that there will be lasting effects on these strongly-rooted annual traditions, as the community has found creative ways to keep celebrations and rituals alive, regardless of the current circumstances.

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Sooke Fire Rescue has helped the community continue to celebrate birthdays during the pandemic by driving past residents’ houses blowing sirens, and Sooke schools and teachers have held drive-by parades to say hello to the students. As well, yearly events such as the Sooke Fine Arts Show have switched to a virtual platform this year in order to still make some form of event happen.

Our psychological and societal ties to traditions are a means of creating “meaning, purpose, and social continuity,” within cultures, said Paul Bramadat, professor and the director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria.

“They have historically helped people to answer the big questions about suffering, beauty, permanence, morality and desire. They respond to these existential questions in site-specific and regionally-specific ways that change as the social facts on the ground change, such as economics, politics, notions of beauty, or morality.”

Should a long lasting tradition be challenged, people seem to always find a way to keep the spirit alive, finding creative ways to celebrate in the face of hardship.

For example, the pandemic has left the future of graduation uncertain this year, for Grade 12 students, and youth graduating elementary or middle school in Sooke – but community members are coming together to brainstorm ways of acknowledging the students’ accomplishments.

Sooke mom Kira McDonald, who has a child graduating from Poirier Elementary School, expressed sympathy for graduating students.

“These kids have all watched the annual tradition and have eagerly anticipated being able to participate in it. Parents are trying to come up with an alternative way to celebrate and acknowledge their accomplishments,” said McDonald.

Some parents from Poirier have started a Facebook group, planning a few new ways to celebrate, including making grad sweaters and T-shirts for students to buy, and hoping to put together a video montage to commemorate their time at Poirier.

“We are just trying to come together and celebrate the kids, who have been looking forward for so long for their time on the stage,” said McDonald.

“It is reassuring to me that even if things get bad, we are a strong community and will come together when we need to. I love Sooke for that.”

As graduation is so deeply engraved in our culture, instilling young people with a sense of pride and closure to a chapter of their life, it will undoubtedly continue to be celebrated for years to come.

“Graduation is a milestone that deserves recognition, whether it’s from elementary school or Grade 12. It means so much to the students and is part of moving on to the next stage of life. Having that ceremony prepares the kids for what is to come next,” McDonald said.

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As for other traditions, Bramadat said practices tend to typically have a religion, political or economic backbone to keep them going. Many traditions dramatically change form over time as societies evolve. This can be seen in events like Christmas, where in some cases the religious context may be removed with respect to how it is celebrated.

Bramadat doubts that COVID-19 will have lasting impacts on any large-scale traditions or events, but predicts religious communities that were already struggling might see an increase in participation while services are shared on an online platform.

“The pandemic just won’t last long enough to have a permanent effect. It is often these religious communities that are some of the most resilient features of societies that are undergoing difficult transitions; people will likely be appreciative of those efforts, whether it’s soup kitchens, employment services, or ESL training,” said Bramadat.

Elizabeth Johnson, the rector’s warden at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Sooke, said the church has seen a dwindling in participation over the years, but she’s hopeful they can enjoy “a renaissance” once the pandemic is over.

“We are trying to think of different ways to present our faith,” said Johnson. “Perhaps people will realize during this time that they do need something besides themselves.”

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