Riding the ferries on Christmas Day, a tradition for many families

Luca and Everly Vanzella were wearing most of their Christmas presents as they boarded the Queen of Cowichan ferry from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay.

Three-year-old Luca was moonlighting as Luke Skywalker with a miniature version of the Jedi robe wrapped around him.

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His 16-month-old sister donned fleece jammies inscribed with “Berry Christmas,” a gift from grandma and grandpa.

The kids and their parents, Jon and Amy, were up at the crack of dawn to open gifts at their Nanoose Bay home with Amy’s family before darting off to catch the 10:40 a.m. sailing to North Vancouver to celebrate Christmas dinner with Jon’s family in Squamish.

Jon said they’re used to travelling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to see both sides of the family.

While Christmas Day is one of the lighter holiday sailing days for B.C. Ferries, the Queen of Cowichan sailing was filled with people toting presents destined for relatives on the mainland.

An average of 42,000 people travel via B.C. Ferries on Christmas Day, with 12,800 people travelling between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, one of the busiest routes. That requires a staff of 1,249, about one quarter of B.C. Ferries’ workforce.

Barbara Munro has been part of that workforce for 31 years. Wearing reindeer antlers, holly wreath earrings and with her white hair pulled into a neat bun, the 62-year-old Nanaimo resident estimates she has worked 17 Christmases in her career, a day that happens to land on her birthday. As she rung in people’s coffees and clam chowders in the Coastal Cafe, an announcement came over the loudspeaker advising people to wish the friendly cashier named Barb a happy birthday.

She blamed longtime colleague Burgess for the attention. It was his birthday on Christmas Eve and she made sure everyone knew it. In response to passengers who lament her misfortune of working on such a special day, Munro flashes a big smile and says she’s happy to do it.

“When I was a casual [employee] when my kids were growing up, I couldn’t get Christmas off because the regulars wanted it off. Now that my kids are grown and I’m a regular, I want to work Christmas because my kids are gone,” said Munro, who has an adult son and daughter.

“My kids consider themselves ferry kids,” she said.

Munro said everyone, passengers and crew, are always in good spirits on Christmas Day and when pressed, she can’t recall any holiday horror stories looking back on her 17 ferry Christmases.

“We always just have fun. We have a really great crew,” she said. “It is what you make it. If you want to have a good time, you’re going to have a good time. If you’re miserable, that’s what is going to come toward you.”

Munro has worked her way from more remote routes such as Prince Rupert and has been doing the job long enough that rough seas, like the wild and windy conditions that resulted in the cancellation of dozens of sailings, doesn’t faze her.

“Us old sea dogs, we don’t notice the bad weather because we’ve been on the boat so long,” she said. “The only time we notice is when you walk off the boat and you’re walking like you’re drunk,” she joked.

Far from the stormy weather that battered Vancouver Island Thursday, leaving tens of thousands without power and some communities looking like a disaster zone, the seas were calm on Tuesday, with golden rays peeking out from below low-hanging clouds.

At one point in the journey to Horseshoe Bay, passengers flocked to the starboard side to catch a glimpse of the dorsal fin of an orca.

Chief steward Tiffany Longshaw, 28, donned reindeer antlers and gave out Santa hats and Christmas colouring sheets for kids.

Longshaw’s father, who lives in Nanaimo, has been without power since Thursday’s storm, so he was preparing dinner at her house while she worked. With the knowledge she’d be working Christmas Day, Longshaw, her siblings and her partner celebrated a day early.

“We just moved the whole day [to the 24th],” she said. “We’re a shift-working family.”

She said many B.C. Ferries employees are still without power and are using power outlets on the ferry to charge their phones.

Longshaw said she feels for Islanders who are in the dark this Christmas, while “we’re snug and secure inside our warm boat.”

The B.C. Ferries staff mess was filled with cheese and meat and sweets, and staff working the afternoon shift were treated to a traditional turkey dinner.

For peckish passengers, the Coastal Cafe was serving the usual White Spot fare, with some added orange and cranberry shortbread and Christmas meringues tucked into the dessert fridge. The Pacific Buffet, offered on the Coastal Celebration, Spirit of British Columbia and Spirit of Vancouver Island, featured a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

As they sat playing a board game called Relative Insanity in the Coastal Express Cafe, one half of the Dentoom family got the memo about Christmas pyjamas.

Siblings Neil, 26, and Allison, 28, wore the same red, white and green bear onesies as toddler Everly, proving you’re never too old for Christmas.

Neil, Alison and their parents Kelsey and André, of Ladysmith, were heading to Maple Ridge to visit Kelsey’s family and the siblings vowed to wear the pyjamas until dinner.

“It’s a Christmas tradition,” Neil said. “My mom would always make us pyjamas for the night before Christmas. We grew up a little bit but we decided we’re not too old for onesies so that was this year’s present.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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