Partial lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing norms have surely dampened the holiday spirit as people are gearing up to celebrate Christmas amid the coronavirus pandemic. While some Christmas traditions and festivities have been toned down, others have been altered to reflect the pandemic.
Finding the tree
Christmas tree farms in Australia are shutting up shop earlier than usual as pandemic-weary consumers eager for some festive joy are opting for fresh pine trees over the plastic versions. Meanwhile, in Greece, a nationwide lockdown has meant thousands of Christmas trees may not get to market in time, which is a blow to farmers in northern Greece where fir tree sales are their only livelihood. The annual crop requires up to 15 years of labour and the trees must be cut annually or they dry out as they are densely planted.
Time for presents
In Spain, toymaker Famosa’s popular Nancy doll has been given a Covid twist, and is a hit with children. While one is wearing a protective mask, the other comes with a virus tester. If the doll is infected, one can cure it by tickling it. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Portugal, the sales of Science4You’s toys, related to the virus, are also in demand. One of the top hits is a kit of 15 activities that include making masks, face shields and star-shaped soap, and has sold over 8,000 kits since mid-July. In Czech Republic, Christmas ornament makers have added tiny masks to the country’s traditional golden pigs, which are said to arrive in the homes of children who fast before Christmas Eve’s family feast.
Mulling over wine
With most Christmas markets closed, open-air mulled wine stands have popped up across Germany as bars and restaurant owners are trying to bring festive cheer and earn some income during the nation’s ‘lockdown light’. In several towns, they have organised mulled wine walks that are drawing crowds. However, politicians fear that gatherings of people drinking alcohol could hamper efforts to bring the virus under control. Recently, the police in Heidelberg, in southwest Germany, broke up a group of 200 people participating in one of the walks, while Bavaria has imposed a state-wide ban on selling alcohol in the open air.
Where it all started
Jesus’s birthplace Bethlehem is gearing up for a subdued Christmas as most of the inns are closed, the shepherds are likely to be under lockdown and there are few visitors in town. Last year, the town was celebrating its busiest festive season for two decades and hotels were adding new wings. Most of them are now shuttered. Nevertheless, town leaders say the traditional birthplace of Jesus will go ahead with its celebrations, aware that the world’s eyes are upon it at this time of year.
All eyes on the tree
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Tishman Speyer, the real-estate company that owns and manages Rockefeller Center, has announced a series of safety protocols for visitors planning to take in what is known as the world’s most popular Christmas tree. In addition to a five-minute viewing limit, visitors will have to line up to take their turn at designated viewing pods, spaced six feet apart, with no more than four people allotted per pod. If the line is long, visitors can sign up for a virtual queue and will be alerted when it is time to return for viewing.
Meeting Santa Claus
A small group of Germans have sought to keep alive an annual tradition and take part in a run dressed in Santa robes and hats in the eastern town of Michendorf. Normally up to 1,200 people take part, but this year participants were asked to keep their distance and post photos of themselves while running. While in Hungary, several local companies are offering online meetings with Santa Claus for children, through pre-record personalised messages online sessions with he greets from his home office.
On a different stage
The doors to a live audience opened for the first time since March at London’s Dominion Theatre, which is getting ready to put on a socially distanced, concert-style production of the musical A Christmas Carol. The more than 2,000-seat theatre will host fewer than 1,000 per show and the 28 cast members will remain apart on stage. British actor-comedian Brian Conley will take on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly protagonist of the popular Charles Dickens Christmas story, a staple of London’s theatreland during the festive season. Similarly, in the US, the production has been a seasonal staple of American regional theatre since the 1970s, which generally runs between Thanksgiving and year-end. Ditching large-cast extravaganzas in packed venues, theatres are now doing outdoor stagings, drive-in productions, street theatre, streaming video, radio plays and even a do-it-yourself kit sent by mail. Though they are losing money, they are saving a tradition.
Drop in demand
Taiwan’s “Christmas King” Harland Tsai’s Lien Teng Enterprise factory in Taichung has been making over 10,000 Christmas trees, wreaths and snow angels for more than three decades. However this year, with not enough orders from Europe and the Americas, the factory had to cut back staff of 30 to fewer than 10. Similarly, a handicraft workshop in Gaza, run by Zeina Cooperative Association, where 24 Palestinian Muslim women make miniature Christmas trees, red-and-white puppets and Santa Claus marionettes, is finding it difficult to export to Europe and Bethlehem and its sales are down by half.