Families generally reunited on Christmas over a long and hearty meal held separately, services were switched online, and gift exchanges were low-key in one of the most unusual and moderate holiday seasons in decades.
The coronavirus hardly left anyone intact.
Patricia Hager, 60, handed out homemade caramel bagels for breakfast to family and friends in Bismarck, North Dakota, a state that was not hit until later in the pandemic but was hit hard.
It seemed like every time she opened her door this holiday season, someone had dropped off smoked salmon, baskets of nuts, or cookies.
“This year the Christmas love is expressed at the door,” he said. “I’m glad people will probably be with us next year with vaccinations. I can give up anything for that.”
With a son due to be born in February, Song Ju-hyeon from Paju, South Korea, near Seoul, said her home is the only place where she feels safe.
The government reported 1,241 new cases on Friday, a new daily record for the country.
“It doesn’t look like Christmas anyway, there are no Christmas carols in the streets,” he said.
“It is Christmas,” declared the Daily Nation newspaper in Kenya, where a surge in cases prompted doctors to end a short strike on Christmas Eve. The celebrations fell silent in central East Africa when the curfew prevented church vigils at night.
Tourism has all but disappeared and the government’s coronavirus holiday restrictions thwarted any plans by locals to flock to the square.
Citing cause for optimism, Francis said the development of COVID-19 vaccines shines “lights of hope” around the world.
In a passionate appeal to international leaders, companies and organizations, he said they must ensure that those most vulnerable and in need of the pandemic are the first to receive the vaccine.
The bells rang around Bethlehem in celebration of the traditional birthplace of Jesus. But the closure of Israel’s international airport to foreign tourists, along with Palestinian restrictions prohibiting travel between cities in the areas they administer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, kept visitors away.
In Beijing, official churches abruptly canceled Mass after China’s capital was placed on high alert following two confirmed cases of COVID-19 last week. Two new asymptomatic cases were reported on Friday.
With economies reeling around the world, it was not a year of generous gifts.
Robin Sypniewski of Middlesex County, NJ, was twice suspended from her job serving school lunches and now has reduced hours as her husband retires next week as a garbage collector and their daughter struggles with student debt.
Sypniewski, 58, bought her daughter’s pajamas, compared to a diamond bracelet last Christmas. Her husband received a $ 20 plaque outlining his Polish heritage, compared to a tablet last year.
“The bills have to be paid this month and next. With the reduction in hours, it is difficult,” he said.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, taxi driver Dennys Abreu, 56, cruised through the vast city overnight to cover the $ 300 monthly payment for his car, which he bought after losing a construction job. It is estimated that 14 million Brazilians are unemployed.
“All I can do is work as hard as I can, get by and hope this damn virus is gone next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, religious services changed online.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles celebrated five Masses at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with a maximum attendance of 130 people, compared with a pre-pandemic capacity of about 3,000. They were all broadcast live.
Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, had five services, but in-person assistance was limited to 25 people, compared to 2,000 before the pandemic. A Christmas Eve contest that is normally held in person was recorded and shown online.
“I have to remember that Christians have been celebrating Christmas for hundreds of years in all sorts of circumstances,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Marie Melchionna, rector of the church.
“Some of the outer appearances are different and yet the essence remains the same. What has not changed is that essential longing and celebration of love that is born at Christmas.”
In Paris, members of the Notre Dame Cathedral choir sang inside the church for the first time since a fire in 2019, wearing helmets and protective suits against construction conditions.
The pain prevailed among the families of more than 1.7 million people worldwide killed by the virus and approximately 80 million infected.
Margarita Reyes, 60, is one of four people in her home who contracted the virus in Calexico, California, near the Mexican border.
Her 69-year-old husband died in three weeks and her 35-year-old daughter has been on an oxygen device for five months. They were too sad to celebrate in any way.
Suzanne Rose of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, delivered homemade spaghetti to the door of her quarantined daughter, a restaurant manager who was exposed to the virus at work. His son, a firefighter, was also exposed.
“The air went out of the balloon” without her children at Christmas, she said. A video chat was not a substitute for watching movies in the same room with them and her husband.
Border closures and bottlenecks thwarted some plans.
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The British Army and French firefighters were called in to help speed up the tests and free food was distributed.
With Colombia closing its borders to prevent the virus from spreading, Venezuelan migrants were unable to return home for the holidays. Yakelin Tamaure, a nurse who left Venezuela with financial problems two years ago, wanted to visit her mother, who is caring for a broken foot.
“I try to send him money, but it is not the same as being there,” he said.
But many took the restrictions in stride. A pre-pandemic Christmas in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 53-year-old Kristin Schrader, meant hosting a big dinner with appetizers for her brother from Denver, her parents, who live in the city, and friends who come.
This year, she took a socially distant outing with her husband and 13-year-old daughter to watch a man dressed as Santa Claus canoe down the icy Huron River with his dog. A low-key fondue dinner was also on the agenda.
“It’s really difficult when everyone is sitting in the same house to gather a lot of emotion for the three of us when we look at each other for months and months,” he said.
The 70 residents of St. Peters, a nursing home in the northern Spanish city of El Astillero, held video conferences or 30-minute visits with relatives, separated by a Plexiglas wall.
“This terrible thing has come to us, so we must accept it and face it with patience,” said Mercedes Aréjula, who was reunited with her mother.
The nursing home only allowed one relative to enter. A granddaughter blew kisses from outside.