Holiday tradition bittersweet for outgoing Banff mayor as she reflects on time in town hall

·2 min read
Holiday tradition bittersweet for outgoing Banff mayor as she reflects on time in town hall

It's her mother's recipe — the Christmas cookies she spends hours making for town staff every December.

Karen Sorensen started the tradition in 2010 when she went from being a town councillor, to being elected mayor of Banff, Alta.

"I make 224 packages with three cookies each and so I need about 700 cookies" Sorensen said.

Every Christmas, Karen spends a couple of days baking cookies from scratch in her home, to drop them off on the desks at town hall, the fire department, the rec centre and the operations building as a way to say thank you.

"We call them townies — thank your townie. Be grateful, whether they're out plowing the snow or making sure you have fresh water to drink or collecting the waste — even the bylaw officer who might have given you a ticket deserves your thanks," Sorensen said.

After 10 years as mayor and six as a councillor before that, Sorensen isn't running for re-election next year.

She said it's a decision she made after she won her third term at the helm in 2017.

A meaningful gesture

What she didn't know was a global pandemic would cancel many of her "last" moments in the role, like Canada Day celebrations, Remembrance Day ceremonies — and now is forcing her to adjust her Christmas cookie tradition.

"I will miss absolutely going and seeing the different departments in their actual workspace and walking up to each of the individual workers as they do their job, and I interrupt them, say Merry Christmas and make sure they get their cookies — that's unfortunate, but in terms of the intention of the gesture, I think it's even more meaningful this year," Sorensen said.

Sorensen's time as mayor has seen its challenges.

The 2013 flood, some scary fire seasons — one she remembers in particular was 2017, when forest fires nearly threatened the town limits — and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Submitted by Karen Sorensen
Submitted by Karen Sorensen

Sorensen said she gets emotional thinking about having to leave. Showing emotion as a woman in politics can be difficult to do.

"I don't know if gender plays a part in it or not, but it does seem that as a female, if I cry or get emotional, somehow it's judged differently. But I do try to be authentic," Sorensen said.

And on this day, as she prepares tiny gift bags with handwritten greetings on them, the 61-year-old is authentic, speaking through tears.

"It has been such a privilege. It's a very special place in Canada, and it's just been a real privilege to serve and there's no doubt about it, it will be very hard to walk away," Sorensen said.