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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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.