How will Christmas 2020 be celebrated in Germany?

Visits from Santa Claus, gift giving, and church services - for many people, that is what Christmas is all about. However this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, things will surely be different.

How will Christmas 2020 be celebrated in Germany?
The first Christmas trees on sale on Saturday, October 24th in Werder, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

There may be strict social distancing measures in place, and several Christmas markets continue to be cancelled.

Yet this year celebrations will still happen, and no one has to celebrate alone, said the spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Berlin, Stefan Förner.

Förnerechoed several people in Germany, particularly in the church community, who were optimistic that Christmas celebrations would go ahead this year – even if differently than ever before. 

READ ALSO: Frankfurt cancels Christmas market as infections rise

“This year we will recall long standing traditions while also developing relatively new ones,” said Förner. 

“We must become creative this year. The cards have been reshuffled.” said the Berlin-based family therapist Doerte van Benthem Favre. 

She advised utilising more technological opportunities in lieu of not being able to travel as much this year. “If grandma cannot visit, turn on Skype and open presents together,” she suggested.

Here comes Santa Claus

Meanwhile, Petra Henkert, leader of a Santa Claus impersonator group in Zeuthen, Brandenburg, hopes that she can send her Santa Clauses out this year, despite the hygiene and distancing regulations. 

Normally around 40 to 50 men adorned in white beards and red overcoats make visits throughout the season. The first requests for Santa visits have already been received.

A “Santa Claus tour” in Hamburg in December 2018. Photo: DPA

“Many Santa Claus impersonators themselves belong to the risk group,” said Henkert. 

And sometimes they visit ten to twelve families per day, meaning hygiene measures are needed. 

“Many Santa Claus impersonators have already contemplated whether they should wear a mask under the beard and are concerned about proper hand disinfection. Others have already canceled and would rather not be involved at all,” said Henkert. 

It is of course seemingly simple to visit families with gardens or terraces, said to Henkert, but was skeptical about gift giving under the open sky. “But what about when it’s pouring rain?” she asked.

A new type of church service

Many congregations are now meeting outside in the fresh and air.

“Many church services will take place outside: in the largest communal areas in the cities, in stadiums, or in drive-in cinemas. Church services in forests as well as pilgrimage services are planned,” said Evangelical Church spokesperson Carsten Splitt. 

The ingenuity and resourcefulness of the religious communities are impressive.

“Many churches will be open as ‘places of silence,’ and church services will take place outside, in front of the actual church,” Splitt continued. 

Livestreams and television services are intended to complement the offers on site.  

“A few church communities have already rented sports stadiums or inquired about a possible cooperation with various clubs, like Energie Cottbus. 

Processional services in school gardens and marketplaces are conceivable,” reported Christine Bertelsman, from the press office of the the Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia Evangelical Church. 

“For years Union Berlin have shown us how we can organise Christmas carol singing events outdoors. We do not know whether the same atmosphere will emerge in a stadium with social-distancing measures in place. In any case we will try it out,” said Stefan Förner from the Archdiocese of Berlin. 

READ ALSO: German choirs silenced as singing branded coronavirus risk

“At the beginning of Lockdown, announcement formats developed on Instagram and Facebook. They will certainly continue through Christmas, with a special pizazz. In the meantime, worship communities have come together in WhatsApp messaging groups,” continued Förner. 

The platform “Kirche jetzt” (Church now) offers sources of inspiration for Church communities eager to adapt. Among other things, the platform provides a 30 page collection of ideas from the Evangelical Church of Westphalia. 

'A great sense of liberation'

The authors are encouraging, writing, “Experiences from Easter show that trying something new can be a good experience. Experiments are finally possible!”

The current realities of pandemic-living offers a chance to discover new aspects of Christmas, says Kristian Fechtner, Professor of Practical Theology at the University of Mainz. “Many trusted rituals are rather tight and inflexible. 

Christmas carols in Lustadt, Rhineland-Palatinate in December 2018. Photo: DPA

For some, blowing off these rituals this year may come as a relief and give a sense of liberation,” continued Fechtner. 

He advocates for a “Christmas on the move” with many spread-out liturgical stations where the faithful can simply pass by, instead of congregating around a central nativity play.

“The entire Christmas story is one of being on the road,” he said, and remains important that there is a feeling of festivity. “I believe that this solution will suit smaller, decentralised locations better than events in large stadiums,” said the expert. 

Admittedly not all people have the opportunity to experience Christmas with their respective community.

“The parishes will attempt to maintain supportive outlets for the lonely,” explained Christine Bertelsmann. Telephone counselling plays a big role in supporting those who must keep distance from their loved ones. 

Elke Schilling, who founded the “Senior-Hotline,” a tele-counselling service run by the “Silbernetz” (Senior network) Association, knows that Christmastime can be hard. 

“Those who usually have their children visiting at Christmas may have to do without them this year. It was already difficult during the Easter celebrations, as we heard on our senior-hotline. Christmas will be even harder.”

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.