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2020 has been far from being a holiday, but as the year draws to a close, many of Of Europe governments are fighting to avoid strict closures during the Christmas holidays.

The push to save the celebration comes despite the fact that other religious holidays, including Christian ones, have been quietly marked in recent months.

England is currently under its second national lockdown and the UK as a whole has logged over 1.5 million COVID-19 cases.
London, 2020
The exterior of the Tate Britain art gallery in London is illuminated by neon lights to mark Diwali on November 14. (AP)

“This year, Christmas will be different,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “Many of us long to spend time with family and friends, regardless of our faith or background, and yet we cannot ignore caution. The virus does not know that it is Christmas.”

The day before, Johnson warned that while the holiday period may be “the season to be joyous … it is also the season to be very careful, especially with older relatives.”

Relaxed rules for Christmas

The message that stricter fall regulations could lead to a more relaxed Christmas season has been echoed across Europe.

In France, a second national blockade was imposed in late October, but despite nonessential businesses being closed across the country, the government has allowed the sale of Christmas trees, by decree.

A slowdown in the spread of the virus means that France’s lockdown will begin to ease this weekend, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. The restrictions could be lifted further on December 15, if the daily number of cases falls below 5,000 and there are only 2,000-3,000 in hospital ICUs.

“Therefore, once again we will be able to travel without authorization, even between regions, and spend Christmas with our family,” Macron said.

Paris, 2020
The Avenue des Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris with Christmas lights on November 22, 2020. (Getty)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged people to respect the country’s COVID-19 restrictions to enjoy Christmas, in a speech earlier this fall. but since then Italy has taken a more cautious note.

Sandra Zampa, undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Health, said on November 11 that the government wanted to avoid the big Christmas holidays. Instead, he said the meetings would likely be limited to close relatives such as parents, children and siblings. “I don’t think we can go any further,” Zampa said in an interview on local television.

The Irish government is ready to ease restrictions for nearly two weeks around the Christmas period and is considering allowing up to three households to come together for the holidays, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told state broadcaster RTE on Wednesday.

And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the public to obey social distancing restrictions in October, in order to preserve the country’s Christmas celebrations.

“We must do everything possible so that the virus does not spread out of control. Every day now counts,” he said on October 17. “What will winter be like, what will our Christmas be like, that will be decided in the coming years.” days and weeks “.

German MPs are currently considering a draft proposal that would allow up to 10 people to celebrate Christmas and the New Year together, CNN affiliate n-tv reported.

Coronavirus lockdown in Europe
Two men in masks cross the deserted Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a tourist landmark, in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 2, 2020. (AP)

Celebrations changed online

Christmas occupies a unique and huge place in the religious calendar. But since the epidemic began, Easter, Passover, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Rosh Hashanah, and Diwali have been celebrated all over Europe.

All were tagged in silence, without government debate. Neither attracted the fervor inspired by the prospect of a pandemic Christmas.

Anjana Singh, 48, runs Amikal, a Hindu community group in Berlin. Singh hosted an all-day virtual Diwali celebration to replace the more traditional festivities this November.

“Usually we have a lot of viewers, 500-1000, that’s how we usually celebrate Diwali,” he told CNN. “In February it was clear that Corona was here. So Amikal decided, let’s do it online.”

“Christmas could easily be celebrated online as well,” he added. “Through the digital platform, we can all be together, but we can be sure.”

The feeling that some festivals take precedence over others also exists in Britain. Many Muslims in the north of England were caught off guard in July when the government restricted people’s movements in some areas, just hours before Eid al-Adha prayers began.

Berlin, 2020
Muslims wearing protective masks perform Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin on May 24. (Getty)

“I think it was good to stay locked up during the Eid period,” said Nadir Mohamed, executive director of the Center for Muslim Policy Research, a London-based think tank.

“I think it wasn’t so much that people disagreed with the shutdown itself, it was … kind of a late-night thing,” he said. “There was no effective or timely communication [about the restrictions.]”

Secular and spiritual event

Elizabeth Oldfield, director of Theos, a Christian think tank, told CNN that the importance of Christmas now extends beyond religion, making it a national and secular event as well as a spiritual one.

“Christmas is less the crux of the [Christian] theological year compared to Easter, “Oldfield told CNN.

This year, he noted, “Christians were not able to commemorate Good Friday or celebrate Easter Sunday, which for most Christians is really important.”

She added: “This ‘saving Christmas’ is almost entirely a civic and cultural Christian [idea.] It’s not about religion at all, it’s about national identity, civic identity. “

Oldfield also said that governments know that a large number of people celebrate Christmas in Europe, compared to other religious days. In the UK alone, a 2018 survey by the YouGov survey company found that nine out of 10 people celebrated Christmas with gifts.

“Sometimes I feel like there are two festivals at the same time,” Oldfield said. “There is the secular, pagan, consumer-driven festival that brings its own joys and then there is the actual Christian festival.”

Mohamed said: “Christmas is an occasion that is not seen in the UK as purely Christian. Those days are past, everyone gets involved in the festivities in one way or another.”

Regardless of the government’s efforts, some features of a European Christmas have already been canceled due to COVID-19.

In Belgium, all Christmas markets have been canceled, as has the market in the German city of Cologne. However, the Viennese Christmas Dream Market in Austria, the Strasbourg Christmas Market in France, and the Basel Christmas Market in Switzerland keep going.

On November 10, Estonia announced that all events in the country, including Christmas parties, would be canceled, although the government added that: “Of course, it is allowed to celebrate Christmas with the family.”

Restrictions in place to return

In Britain, government medical adviser Susan Hopkins has said that if people mix over the Christmas holidays, everyone will have to cut back on contacts again after the holidays.

“As Christmas comes, we will have to be very careful with the number of contacts we have and reduce transmission before Christmas and reduce cases to the minimum possible,” Hopkins said Nov. 18.

But other experts believe that people shouldn’t risk getting together for the holidays.

“We haven’t made nine months of sacrifices to throw it all away at Christmas,” tweeted Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol, on November 19.

Epidemiologist Shikta Das agrees with Scally.

“The pandemic is going to stay here. The government is doing its [best] but these decisions will not help. We will go into lockdown after Christmas and the R rate will go up, “Das told CNN.

“If you have a very sick person in your family, it’s probably best not to get together. It’s probably not a very good idea,” he added.

If Europe chooses to celebrate Christmas with a reduction in closures, there may be a price to pay in the new year.

Canada has seen an increase in coronavirus cases in the three weeks since its citizens celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Its largest city, Toronto, was again blocked earlier this week.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said the country was a warning for the holiday season.

“The question is, do you have the disease under control enough to start? Can you, in a sense, allow people a little more freedom during … the Christmas period, which creates a sense of trust and a sense of of joy in the community, which people need right now, without allowing the virus to spread back into our communities. And this is a very important compensation, “Ryan said at a news conference Monday.

Oldfield notes that it is natural for people to want to come together to celebrate.

“Sometimes this saving Christmas [idea] it feels crazy, because you don’t want more deaths in exchange for your pigs in blankets, “he told CNN.” But at the same time there is a deep theological feeling [concept] about thriving through human connection. This is really [happening] because we just want to be together. “

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