Photo taken on Dec. 14, 2020 shows a Santa Claus toy wearing face mask at a bakery in Rome, Italy. (Xinhua/Cheng Tingting)
"We can't visit family in other regions, and we can't gather together in large groups either in restaurants or at home. Those things are almost the definition of 'holiday' in Italy."
Overshadowed by COVID-19, Europe saw a Christmas ahead like never before. For the upcoming holidays, a variety of restrictions were in place across hard-hit countries to contain the virus spread, while households hurried up with preparations for holiday feasts.
A recent role played in this gloomy picture was a more contagious strain of the coronavirus found in Britain, adding to the COVID-19 sentiment. There is good news, nevertheless, as the mass vaccination is around the corner, which is likely to be the light at the end of the tunnel.
EUROPE POISED FOR QUIET CELEBRATION
Usually major holidays in Italy come with a big family meal, but under the strict rules on distancing, gatherings come into question.
Regulations there in force through Christmas and New Year's Day prohibit non-essential travel beyond 30 km from home or between regions. Restaurants and bars are asked to close by 6 p.m., with a nationwide curfew taking effect in four hours.
"This will be a holiday season unlike anything any Italian has experienced," said Luciano Sbraga, director of the research department of Italy's restaurant industry association. "We can't visit family in other regions, and we can't gather together in large groups either in restaurants or at home. Those things are almost the definition of 'holiday' in Italy."
In Britain, restrictions before Christmas were tightened, parts of it with tier 4 rules, further limiting festive options. Residents in tier 4 are not allowed to gather with anyone outside the family during Christmas except for special reasons.
People walk along Carnaby Street with Christmas decorations in central London, Britain, on Nov. 30, 2020. (Xinhua/Han Yan)
This last-minute change forced many to cancel or change their Christmas plans. James Downs, 31, from Cambridge, said he opted for other choices for Christmas Day rather than facing "the idea of risking my loved ones."
As his job requires contact with various groups of people, he decided to cancel the plan to see his family in Cardiff, including his clinically vulnerable dad.
"The idea of giving my dad the virus and him being very unwell is something I'm not prepared to risk for the sake of a few months, by which time he might have the vaccine," he said.
Days ahead of the year-end holidays, French authorities and experts urged the public to obey the health rules and avoid a third deadly wave of COVID-19.
A recent Odoxa poll showed that though a Christmas gathering and dinner is still a popular tradition, two-thirds of the respondents planned to meet with fewer people than in previous years, and 72 percent said they would respect the government's recommendations.
For Spaniards, the Christmas holiday of 2020 meant a change in their mindset beyond cheering up the family, as uncertainties over the pandemic directly affect year-end consumption, according to the Spain-based EAE Business School.
Uncertainties throughout this year, resulting from the virus outbreak, have slowed down consumption in general, since when living in this state people begin to save income and prioritize expenses, Pablo Contreras, a marketing consultant and EAE professor, told Xinhua.
With Christmas in sight, families in Latvia are choosing online reunion, because this year conventional holiday parties are off-limits. Summing up hopes for the future, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said this week that health is the most precious gift for this Christmas, urging the public to stay home and not gather to keep the virus at bay.
Despite the limits, a buoying festive mood prevailed in Romania's major supermarkets in recent days, with customers bustling around. As night fell, windows in residential areas glittered with colored lights. COVID-19 seemed to change the way of celebration, but may well not drown out the yearning for a better tomorrow.
LOCKDOWN PREVAILS ACROSS CONTINENT
Italians are to spend much of the Christmas and New Year holidays in a nationwide red zone, with restrictions equal to a partial lockdown, to contain the coronavirus, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in mid-December.
"The situation remains difficult, in Italy and in Europe," Conte said. "The virus continues to circulate everywhere."
In Germany, some border states announced new COVID-19 test obligations for travelers from risk areas. Health Minister Jens Spahn appealed on Wednesday to the public for reduced contacts, citing concerns about strained resources in clinics.