How the world has celebrated an unusual COVID-19 Christmas

Curfews, quarantines and even border closings complicated Christmas celebrations for countless people around the globe but ingenuity, determination and imagination helped keep the day special for many.

In Beijing, official churches abruptly cancelled Mass on Christmas Day in a last-minute move, after China’s capital was put on high alert following two confirmed COVID-19 cases last week and two new asymptomatic cases on Friday.

Border crossing closures kept thousands of migrants from economically devastated Venezuela who live in Colombia from going home for Christmas.

Those trying to return home for the holidays this year had to turn to smugglers.

Yakelin Tamaure, a nurse who left Venezuela two years ago, won’t be going home and said there will be no gifts or new clothes for her two children, aged 10 and 15.

A woman sits alone in a dark, cluttered dining room.
People around the world felt more isolated than ever on a Christmas Eve without family or friends.(AP: Emilio Morenatti)

“My mother broke her foot and can’t walk properly so I’m worried about her,” said Ms Tamaure.

“I try to send her money, but it’s not the same as being there.”

Others successfully crossed borders elsewhere, only to find themselves in quarantine.

For their first Christmas since getting married in March, Nattasuda Anusonadisai and Patrick Kaplin are cooped up in quarantine in a Bangkok hotel room.

It wasn’t great fun but they did make sure to get a Christmas tree.

They returned earlier this month from a trip to Canada and the United States.

One condition of entering Thailand is a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

“The hotel was surprised that we ordered a full-sized Christmas tree but didn’t give us too much trouble to bring it in,” said Ms Anusonadisai.

But they hadn’t ordered enough ornaments, so they put items collected on their travels, like an eagle feather, and, of course, masks.

“We will continue this tradition now, since it’s nice to see so many personal memories on the tree,” Mr Kaplan said.

‘It’s Christmask’

Churches in South Korea have ignited clusters of coronavirus infections in densely populated Seoul, along with hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and prisons.

The 1,241 new daily cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday was a record for the country.

Song Ju-hyeon, who is expecting a child in February, said home is the only place she feels safe now.

“It’s Christmask,” the Daily Nation newspaper declared in Kenya, where a second surge in cases has eased and a brief doctors’ strike ended on Christmas Eve.

A woman wearing face mask holds a tea candle in a church.
Curfews and restrictions in some parts of Africa meant many people did not return home for the holidays.

Celebrations were muted in East Africa’s commercial hub as overnight church vigils could not be held because of a curfew.

Fewer people also reportedly headed home to see families, which could help limit the spread of the virus to rural communities.

In Paris, members of Notre Dame Cathedral’s choir, wearing hard hats and protective suits — not against COVID-19 but for construction conditions in the medieval landmark ravaged by fire in 2019 — sang inside the church for the first time since the blaze.

In a special Christmas Eve concert, accompanied by an acclaimed cellist and a rented organ, the socially distanced singers performed beneath the cathedral’s stained-glass windows.

The public was not allowed in and isn’t expected to see the interior of Notre Dame until at least 2024.

In Rome, partial lockdown measures kept the faithful from gathering in St. Peter’s Square, where in past years tens of thousands would receive a papal blessing and hear the pope’s traditional Christmas Day message.

Elderly women wear Christmas hats and face masks while holding each other's hands.
Many people in this elderly residence in Spain didn’t celebrate Christmas with relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus.(AP: Bernat Armangue)

But they wouldn’t have been able to see Pope Francis anyway this year.

In response to a virus resurgence in Italy, the pontiff wasn’t appearing on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica this Christmas but opted to deliver his annual address from inside the Apostolic Palace.

Elsewhere, Christmas was a difficult time.

Thousands of drivers were stranded in their trucks at the English port of Dover, lacking the coronavirus tests that France was now demanding.

The elderly, meanwhile, struggled with the virus travel restrictions that kept them from visiting family or friends for the holidays.

“The solitude gets to me these days. I often feel depressed,” said Alvaro Puig, an 81-year-old in Spain who spent Christmas Eve eating dinner alone with his pet rabbit.


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