A pandemic Christmas: Services move online, people stay home

APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_South_Korea_21732 Christians on the screen attend an online Christmas service for social distancing and a precaution against the coronavirus at the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Pakistan_Christmas_10125 Christians, wearing face masks, attend a Christmas mass in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Pakistan_Christmas_78307 Christians attend a Christmas mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Sri_Lanka_Christmas_42539 A Sri Lankan Christian girl wears a Santa hair band and a face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus as she arrives at a church to attend the Christmas mass in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_India_Christmas_32854 Indian Christians wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus light candles before attending a Christmas mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hyderabad, India, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_South_Africa_Christmas_38473 A worshipper wearing a face mask, holds a lit candle prior to a morning Christmas Mass at the Rosebank Catholic Church in Johannesburg, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Sri_Lanka_Christmas_50321 An elderly Sri Lankan Christian wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus prays inside a church on Christmas in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_Britain_56334 A mother and child look at the line of trucks parked up on the M20, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant.
Virus_Outbreak_Britain_08051 Trucks are parked up on the M20, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant.
Virus_Outbreak_Britain_29456 Trucks are parked up on the M20, as more arrive to join the queue, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant.
Virus_Outbreak_Britain_87291 Trucks are parked up on the M20, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant.
Virus_Outbreak_Britain_23050 Trucks are parked up on the M20, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant.
Spain_Virus_Outbreak_Christmas_74928 Manuel Alguacil pushes the wheelchair of her wife Carmen Riaza at an elderly care home in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outskirts of Madrid, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Many of the elderly in the residence haven't celebrate Christmas eve with their relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus
Spain_Virus_Outbreak_Christmas_30508 Two elders wait Christmas eve dinner at an elderly care home in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outskirts of Madrid, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Many of the elderly in the residence haven't celebrate Christmas eve with their relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus
Spain_Virus_Outbreak_Christmas_43110 Residents of an elderly care home celebrate Christmas Eve in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outskirts of Madrid, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Many of the elderly in the residence haven't celebrate Christmas Eve with their relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus
Virus_Outbreak_India_Christmas_74843 Indian Christians, some wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus, attend a Christmas mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_China_Christmas_17291 A visitor wearing mask to protect from the coronavirus walks by a closure notice outside outside the Wangfujing Church in Beijing on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Official churches in the Chinese capital abruptly cancelled mass on Christmas day in a last-minute move owing to the pandemic. The capital city is on high alert after new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported last week and new asymptomatic cases reported Christmas day.
Virus_Outbreak_Switzerland_Daily_Life_71353 People wearing protective face masks listen with headphones on Christmas Eve during a "silent disco" event called "The Silent Night, Christmas in the Ears" at the Lausanne Cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Headphones allowed about 400 people to practice meditations, or to hear stories and Christmas songs during anti-coronavirus restrictions.
Virus_Outbreak_Factories_98684 This May 20, 2020, photo provided by Smithfield Foods shows some of the measures the company says it has taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus inside its plants. Workers inside its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork processing plant wear protective gear and are separated by plastic partitions as they carve up meat. 
APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_Spain_Christmas_74928 Manuel Alguacil pushes the wheelchair of her wife Carmen Riaza at an elderly care home in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outskirts of Madrid, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Many of the elderly in the residence haven't celebrate Christmas eve with their relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus
Virus_Outbreak_India_Christmas_66670 Indian Christians, who are registered members of St. John in the Wilderness church, attend the Christmas mass in Dharmsala, India, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. The church which was built in 1852, is currently closed to general visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Virus_Outbreak_Russia_Christmas_07235 A Russian emergency rescue worker dressed as Ded Moroz (Santa Claus, or Father Frost) greets children as he scales the wall of a children hospital to mark the upcoming New Year celebrations, Russia, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Russia, which has so far registered more than 2.9 million confirmed cases of the virus and over 52,000 deaths in the pandemic, has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. Usually, performers come into children's rooms, but this year because of the virus-related restrictions, the artists had to perform outside of the hospital at a significant distance.
India_Christmas_60588 George Rakesh Babu, right, founder of Good Samaritans India, a non-government organization feeds food to a homeless person at a shelter to celebrate Christmas on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.
Britain_Christmas_39814 People take part in the annual Christmas Day swim at the Forty Foot bathing spot in Sandycove Dublin, Ireland, Friday Dec. 25, 2020.
Maine_Weather_33728 Maxi Kolb, an exchange student from Germany, takes a photo of a group of Santas and elves getting ready for their annual Christmas morning run on Main Street in Auburn, Maine on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. The group gets together every Christmas morning and runs a loop through Lewiston Auburn.
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ROME (AP) — Families that usually reunite on Christmas over a hearty, lingering meal celebrated apart Friday, services shifted online, and gift exchanges were low-key in one of the most unusual and subdued holiday seasons in decades.

The coronavirus left almost no one unaffected.

Patricia Hager, 60, delivered homemade caramel rolls for breakfast to family and friends in Bismarck, North Dakota, a state that didn’t get hit until later in the pandemic but was struck hard. It seemed every time she opened her door this holiday season, someone had left smoked salmon, baskets of nuts or cookies.

“This year Christmas love is expressed at the door,” she said. “I’m glad that people will probably be with us next year with the vaccines. I can give up anything for that.”

With a child due in February, Song Ju-hyeon of Paju, South Korea, near Seoul, said home is the only place she feels safe. The government reported 1,241 new cases Friday, a new daily record for the country.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas anyway, there’s no carols being played on the streets,” she said.

“It’s Christmask,” the Daily Nation newspaper declared in Kenya, where a surge in cases led to doctors ending a brief strike Christmas Eve. Celebrations were muted in the East African hub as a curfew prevented overnight church vigils.

Pope Francis delivered his Christmas blessing from inside the Vatican, breaking with his traditional speech from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. Tourism in Italy has virtually vanished and the government’s coronavirus restrictions for the holidays foiled any plans by locals to flock to the square.

Citing a cause for optimism, Francis said the development of COVID-19 vaccines shines “lights of hope” on the world. In a passionate appeal to leaders, businesses and international organizations, he said they must ensure that the most vulnerable and needy in the pandemic be first in line to receive the vaccine.

Bells rang out around Bethlehem as the traditional birthplace of Jesus celebrated. But the closure of Israel’s international airport to foreign tourists, along with Palestinian restrictions banning intercity travel 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 put on high alert following two confirmed COVID-19 cases last week. Two new asymptomatic cases were reported Friday.

With economies reeling around the world, it wasn’t a year of lavish gifts. Robin Sypniewski of Middlesex County, New Jersey, was furloughed twice from her job serving school lunches and is now on reduced hours as her husband retires next week as a trash collector and her daughter wrestles with student debt.

Sypniewski, 58, bought her daughter pajamas, compared to a diamond bracelet last Christmas. Her husband got a $20 plaque describing his Polish heritage, compared to a tablet computer last year.

“The bills have to be paid this month and next month. With the reduced hours, it’s tough,” she said.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, taxi driver Dennys Abreu, 56, navigated the vast city overnight to cover the $300 monthly payment on his car, which he bought after losing a construction job. An estimated 14 million Brazilians are jobless.

“All I can do is to work as much as I can, get by and hope this damn virus disappears next year,” he said.

Meanwhile, church services shifted online. The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles celebrated five Masses at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with attendance capped at 130 people, compared to a pre-pandemic capacity of about 3,000. All were livestreamed.

The Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, had five services but in-person attendance was capped at 25 people, compared to as many 2,000 before the pandemic. A Christmas Eve pageant that is normally performed 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, the church rector. “Some of the external appearances are different and yet the essence remains the same. What has not changed is that essential longing and celebration for love that is born at Christmas.”

In Paris, members of Notre Dame Cathedral’s choir sang inside the church for the first time since a 2019 fire, wearing hard hats and protective suits against construction conditions.

Grief prevailed among families of more than 1.7 million people worldwide killed by the virus and roughly 80 million infected.

Margarita Reyes, 60, is among four people in her house to get the virus in Calexico, California, near the Mexican border. Her 69-year-old husband died within 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 Raleigh, North Carolina, delivered homemade spaghetti to the doorstep of her quarantined daughter, a restaurant manager who was exposed to the virus at work. Her son, a firefighter, was also exposed.

“The air went out of the balloon” without her children at Christmas, she said. A video chat was no substitute for watching movies in the same room with them and her husband.

Border closures and bottlenecks foiled some plans. Thousands of drivers were stranded in their trucks at the English port of Dover, lacking the coronavirus tests that France demands amid rising concern about a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant. The British army and French firefighters were brought in to help speed up the testing and free food was distributed.

With Colombia closing its borders to prevent the virus from spreading, Venezuelan migrants couldn’t go home for the holidays. Yakelin Tamaure, a nurse who left economically-wracked Venezuela two years ago, wanted to visit her mother, who is nursing a broken foot.

“I try to send her money, but it’s not the same as being there,” she said.

But many took restrictions in stride. A pre-pandemic Christmas in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Kristin Schrader, 53, meant hosting a big dinner with appetizers for her brother who visits from Denver, her parents, who live in town, and friends who drop by. This year, she opted for a socially-distant outing with her husband and 13-year-old daughter to watch a man dressed as Santa Claus canoe down the frigid Huron River with his dog. A low-key fondue dinner was also on the agenda.

“It’s just really hard when you’ve all be sitting in the same house to muster up a lot of excitement for the three of us when we’re just staring at each other for months and months on end,” she said.

The 70 residents at St. Peters, a nursing home in the northern Spanish town of El Astillero, held video chats or 30-minute visits with family, separated by a plexiglass wall.

“This terrible thing has come to us, so we must accept it and deal with it with patience,” said Mercedes Arejula, who met with her mother.

The nursing home allowed only one relative inside. A granddaughter blew kisses from outside.

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Spagat reported from San Diego.

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AP correspondents contributed to this report from around the globe.

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This story has been corrected to show that Suzanne Rose is from Raleigh, North Carolina, not Winston-Salem.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/ coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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