Eight years ago, Montserrat Parello lost her husband, and Christmas gatherings with kids and grandchildren helped her cope with her loneliness. But this year, because of the possibility of coronavirus infection, the 83-year-old will be alone at her home in Barcelona for a holiday.
“I feel loneliness and anger in these pandemic days,” Parello said, expressing fears that “I will leave this life devoid of affection, of warmth.”
After this year of pandemic uncertainty and confusion, what most individuals wanted for Christmas was some cheer and togetherness. Instead, many are going into an isolated season, mourning for lost loved ones, worrying about their work, or facing the threat of a new version of a potentially more infectious virus.
London residents and nearby areas are unable to see people outside their homes. Peruvians will not be allowed to drive their cars over Christmas and New Year, even with family and friends nearby, to avoid visits. On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day, South Africans won’t be able to go to the beach.
The patchwork of restrictions imposed by local and national governments worldwide differs widely, but this year, few holiday seasons will look natural.
To see lonely elderly relatives despite the danger or to skip one of the potentially few Christmases left in hopes of spending the holiday together next year, people around the world face wrenching decisions.
In the United States, there are no national travel limits, but health officials have advised individuals to stay home and reduce gatherings. Some states require testing or quarantine for passengers.
An attorney in Idlewild, Michigan, Michelle Dallaire, 50, said this will be her first Christmas away from her father, who lives in northern Virginia. They decided this year’s risk wasn’t worth it.
Dallaire, who has health conditions that also make her especially vulnerable to the virus, said, “It is sad but better than never seeing him again.”
Francisco Paulo made a similar decision to miss a visit to his elderly mother in Sao Jose do Belmonte, Pernambuco province, in Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest virus death toll after the United States. Instead, the 53-year-old doorman will work in a building in Sao Paulo for the holiday.
“Now I hope to drive to Pernambuco in May and cross my fingers to get her vaccinated by then,” said Paulo. “It’s not a happy Christmas, but I’m healthy at least, and so are all the people that I love.”
The virus has been responsible for over 1.7 million deaths worldwide, and when the virus surges again, many are either grieving or worrying about loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes. Yet those that have survived the disease, and all that has been thrown at them in 2020, are looking to rejoice.
After months of helping women with the virus give birth and caring for her 26-year-old son, who became himself infected, Dr. Elisaveta Tomova, an anesthesiologist in North Macedonia, is exhausted.
‘I faced a beast with nine heads, and my son and I beat it,’ said the 54-year-old. “To be around me, to celebrate in silence and to fill my heart with joy, all I need now is my family.”
After lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus has decimated economies, many individuals head into the holidays facing financial uncertainty.
When bars and restaurants were told to remain closed until mid-January, Matteo Zega, a 25-year-old Italian chef who worked at Michelin-starred restaurants, lost his job offer in France. He hopes to start an internship in Copenhagen as long as that intention is not scuppered by restrictions, too.
“It makes me stressed,” said Zega. But I wouldn’t complain at the end of the day because there are so many people suffering or dying. Many things can be lost: work, income. But here I am, I’m healthy.
In recent weeks, in the hope of keeping the spread of the virus under control so that the rules could be relaxed for Christmas, several nations have tightened controls. But in many areas, it has not succeeded.
The government has placed even further restrictions in Italy, which has Europe’s highest recorded death toll and where thousands have plunged into poverty after lockdowns.
The four U.K. nations. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all scrapped their initial relaxation plans for Christmas. Just weeks ago, when Britain was the first country to carry out a rigorously tested shot, expectations that a vaccine could stop the spread were strong, but now an atmosphere of fear hangs over the holiday as new infections soar daily.
A new strain of the virus is surging across London and its surrounding areas, contributing to the gloom. Also, hundreds of countries banned travel from Britain, while France began allowing trucks from the country to enter again after a standoff that increased concerns of food shortages in the U.K. during Christmas.
The opportunity to ditch the Christmas schedule came as almost a relief to Matt Balch, a 40-year-old Australian who lives outside London. Balch was scheduled to go with his wife, Kelly, and their two young children to the home of his in-laws in Wales.
“The prospect of being with a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old in a car for six hours each way filled me with dread,” he said.
But James Wren, who works in the finance industry in Hong Kong, was downbeat about his change in plans. Initially, he was going to fly home to Ireland, but the rapidly evolving travel and quarantine policies, combined with the confusion about the coronavirus situation both in Hong Kong and abroad, led him to cancel.
“This is my first time not being with my family for Christmas, even though I have lived outside of Ireland for many years, so it was an extremely upsetting decision to make,” he said.
While several countries were tightening restrictions, amid rapidly increasing cases, Lebanon, with the largest percentage of Christians in the Mideast, was still easing them. The decision was taken to improve an ailing economy and alleviate the desperation worsened in August by a devastating port explosion in Beirut.
But even that did not bring any relief for others.
“After the holidays, it’ll be a disaster,” said Diala Fares, 52. “People act like everything is normal and it doesn’t matter to our government.”
At least some kids can rest assured, despite all the gloom, that Santa Claus is still coming to town.
During a CNN special program with characters from Sesame Street, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said that he had been to the North Pole and vaccinated the man himself.
“It’s good for him to go,” said Fauci.