Christmas Overseas: How Do The Holidays Look Like Amid the Pandemic?

As different countries remain in varying levels of lockdown, what would Christmas be like for Filipinos living there?

Many traditions of celebrating Christmas will not be followed this year, especially in the country where COVID-19 cases show no signs of slowing down. Similarly, other nations still require lockdowns as they struggle to control the impact of the impact. We speak with Ingrid Chua and Amanda Booth, Filipinos currently living abroad. They share what the holiday season is like in their current residences in Paris and London, respectively. With the pandemic still around, how will they celebrate Christmas?

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LEFT: Ingrid Chua. RIGHT: Amanda Booth.
The streets of London. (Photo from Time Out)

Big on reunions

Holding family gatherings is among the many beloved Filipino traditions during the holiday season. Amanda Booth is one to follow this, sharing, “We have a huge extended family in Cebu and we all get together for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We attend mass on Christmas Eve and then have dinner after.” Noche Buena is a treasured highlight of the season as most families stay up late to indulge in the sumptuous feast followed by spirited conversations. Similarly, Ingrid Chua gets together with her family even when they are not in the Philippines. Instead, they hold cookouts at home and have the children open their presents come the morning of Christmas day. “The atmosphere in our household is very festive because there are over 10 of us in the family,” Ingrid says. “This is always something I look forward to each year.”

Before the pandemic, both Amanda and Ingrid would fly to Cebu and San Francisco, respectively to be with their families. Ingrid shares she doesn’t mind the cacophony of noise when her family gathers. “I honestly love every minute of it,” she says with enthusiasm. After all, the happiness from having your loved ones stay in one place is truly irreplaceable, strengthening relationships as the celebrations continue.

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’70s-themed Miracle Bar of Covent Garden’s Henrietta Hotel. (Photo from CN Traveller)
Regent Street Christmas lights. (Photo from Jeff Moore)

Lighting up London

Unlike here in the Philippines, other countries have shown exceptional responses to the impact of the pandemic. Thus, lockdowns need not be strictly implemented. However, some nations still carry out nationwide quarantine for good measure. “I live in London and we actually just came out of a month-long lockdown,” Amanda reveals. They have few COVID-19 cases and so mass gatherings like parties are still not allowed. It is a stark difference from last year’s holidays Amanda observes. “Christmas parties are a huge thing in the [United Kingdom] and something everyone always looks forward to. My friends and I have pretty much not planned a single gathering for the holidays,” she exclaims.

Despite the lack of get-togethers and canceled annual events like the iconic Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park, London still brings the Christmas spirit around. “The city did, however, decide to put up the Christmas lights extra early this year,” Amanda clarifies. Vibrant LED displays, mesmerizing golden angels, and neon pink lightboxes illuminate the streets, alleys, and markets. “It may not seem like much,” she adds. “But at a time like this, we all need a little something to lift our spirits, and Christmas decorations do exactly that.”

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LEFT: Boulevard Haussmann. RIGHT: Rue Saint Georges street. (Photos by Ingrid Chua-Go, taken last November 2020)

Paris slowly reopens

The City of Love is quite short on the spirit of celebration this year as it went on confinement twice due to the pandemic. “I arrived during the 2nd confinement—all commercial establishments were closed,” Ingrid explains. However, establishments gradually opened two weeks ago and so Parisians have begun their Christmas shopping. “We are ‘allowed’ to go within 20 km. of our residence and allowed a maximum of three hours to be out,” she says.

She admits the policies in Paris are more flexible compared to other nations. “I am still trying to get used to the crowds, but I find myself avoiding them at all costs because not everyone here wears their masks properly. Face shields are also not required for entry into establishments,” she elaborates. As of writing, France has over 2.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases with 10,425 recoveries in Paris alone. Even when there are no current cases in the city, for now, people should still be cautious in visiting public spaces.

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Empty Galeries Lafayette in Paris taken on November 19, 2020. (Photo from Pascal Le Segretain of Getty Images)

The new festivities

As for Christmas plans, “For sure I don’t plan on spending it alone,” Ingrid says. “But will exercise caution, because we have not yet defeated this damaging virus that has wreaked havoc on our lives.” Similarly, Amanda recognizes the need to adjust. “My partner and I plan on just having a quiet Christmas at home with our dog,” she reveals. “We think that a small, quiet Christmas is the best option at the moment.”

Although we are beginning to see hope with the effectiveness of the current vaccines, people should still remain attentive to their habits and practices especially outdoors. It may be difficult to celebrate the holidays when we have all these rules to abide by, but these are for our safety. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with our loved ones in good health?

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