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