It’s not the silent night they wanted.
Christmas Day has already arrived for much of the world — not that you’d likely be able to tell, with COVID-19 forcing traditional celebrations to be scrapped and setting 2020 up to be the quietest festive season ever.
The pandemic’s reach is being felt across the globe, keeping families apart, churches limiting worshipers — if allowing any at all — and halting the usual pilgrimage to Bethlehem.
The thousands who usually flock to the traditional birthplace of Jesus have been kept away by the closure of Israel’s international airport to foreigners, and a ban on intercity travel keeping even Palestinian visitors away.
Evening celebrations, when pilgrims normally congregate around the Christmas tree, were canceled, and celebrations of midnight Mass were limited to clergy.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even said he would not participate this year.
Rainy weather added to the gloomy atmosphere, leaving the usually packed streets a relative ghost town.
“The atmosphere of the Christmas celebrations is so beautiful in Bethlehem,” local resident Balqees Qumsieh said. “This year everything will be different.”
Even the head of the Catholic Church is not immune to the radical changes this year.
Pope Francis is holding his annual Christmas Eve “Mass during the Night” early — starting at 7:30 p.m. local time — to allow the few allowed to attend to make it home in time for Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew.
The lucky few invited to the service in the basilica will have their temperatures checked and be forced to wear masks while in socially distanced seating, according to the Catholic News Service.
As with Bethlehem, the streets around the Vatican — the heart of Catholics’ celebration — are expected to be another stark reminder of just how different Christmas 2020 is.
Typical years see around 15,000 devotees flocking to St. Peter’s Square to listen to the pontiff’s annual “urbi et orbi” midday blessing from his balcony.
But being 2020, Francis is instead keeping it locked down in the Hall of Blessings, with the public only able to watch it livestreamed to prevent crowds, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) said.
Italy — one of the nations hit hardest in the pandemic — is one of a number of European nations that have introduced strict lockdowns that will radically change its Christmas traditions.
The Italian government announced Dec. 18 a new lockdown from Christmas Eve until Jan. 6, only allowing anyone other than essential workers to leave their homes once each day, the NCR noted.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also pushed much of England into its strictest level of lockdown amid new mutations of the virus — having previously vowed to ease restrictions, saying it would be “frankly inhuman” to “ban Christmas.”
Under the tier-4 lockdown, people cannot mix with anyone from a different household, even family members.
And it’s not just the general public who’s affected. The royal family will not gather for its traditional Christmas Day church service for the first time in 32 years, police confirmed to the Sun.
The pandemic is also ushering in historic changes in the kitchen — with celebrity chef Nigella Lawson saying she will cook pork instead of the traditional UK Christmas dinner of turkey, which the Times of London called “final confirmation that Christmas really has been canceled.”
Lawson’s decision not to make turkey “for the first time ever” was because it would really make her “feel what’s missing,” especially without family around, she told the BBC. It was not clear how many dishes would instead be prepared in her beloved “meek-ro-wah-vay.”
Elsewhere in England, Christmas looked set to be spent in trucks for thousands of drivers trapped in gridlock after France earlier blocked borders over the UK’s new COVID-19 strain.
Meanwhile, police in Germany — facing near-record highs in cases — threatened fines for those who violate restrictions on gatherings, and the only nightclubs letting people in were ones transformed into testing centers.
The pandemic had “canceled plans and ruined dreams,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in his Christmas address to the nation.
The first place to see in the festive day is “Christmas Island,” or Kiritimati, which was named after the phonetic spelling of the way islanders spell Christmas.
Already used to a wildly different celebration than the US — with many traditionally spending the day on the beach — this year they will also largely spend it in front of computer screens to video chat with loved ones whom they cannot be with, ABC Australia said.
The Land Down Under had expected a relatively COVID-19-free Christmas — but holiday plans were thrown into chaos when three cases detected on Dec. 17 exposed a new cluster in northern Sydney. As additional cases were detected, states again closed their borders.
Churches across the country were requiring worshipers to reserve tickets for services, with far fewer allowed in.
Thailand is also being crushed this holiday, which is typically peak tourism season.
An unexpected spike in COVID cases has crippled many businesses in the country, with those still surviving choosing to stay closed.
While most of the world shuts down, Lebanon is bucking the trend and lifting restrictions in time for the holidays, with tens of thousands of expatriates arriving — but also bringing with them fears of a surge in infections.
With the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East — about a third of its 5 million people — Lebanon already celebrates Christmas with much fanfare. Officials chose to make the extra push after the economy was devastated by the massive August port explosion in the capital, Beirut.
A giant Christmas tree in downtown Beirut is decorated with the uniforms of firefighters to commemorate those who died, while another represents the ancient houses destroyed in the blast.
“People around us were tired, depressed and depleted, so we said let’s just plant a drop of joy and love,” said Sevine Ariss, one of the organizers of a Christmas fair along the seaside road near the explosion site.
But despite the push, the streets of Beirut are still noticeably subdued, according to the Associated Press.
With Post wires