What are other countries doing for Christmas and Thanksgiving?

Isobel Frodsham
·10-min read
<p>People around the world are restricted with their celebrations for Christmas and Thanksgiving this year</p> (Getty Images)

People around the world are restricted with their celebrations for Christmas and Thanksgiving this year

(Getty Images)

On Thursday 26 November, Americans around the world will be celebrating their annual holiday of Thanksgiving, which marks the time when colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts, later known as the Pilgrims, shared a meal with the Wampanoag Indians, who were native to the land.

It’s the most hotly-anticipated event for Americans each year and is seen by some as more important holiday than Christmas.

Unlike Christmas, there isn’t a set date. Instead, in the US, it takes place on the fourth Thursday of every November. Other countries that celebrate it or variations of it, including Liberia, Canada, Grenada and Japan, tend to throw their celebrations in September or October.

Christmas is nearly a month away, meaning people in normal years would have started shopping for presents to give to their loved ones on 25 December.

But due to the outbreak of Covid-19, celebrations are likely to be wound down this year to prevent the virus spreading, leaving families and friends questioning whether or not they will be able to see each other.

While countries such as Norway and Denmark are looking likely to be able to spend Christmas with their friends and family as normal, other countries could be subject to lockdown measures, meaning they will have to send presents in the post and do video calls instead.

Here is the latest information on guidance surrounding Thanksgiving, which includes only the US as other countries have already celebrated it, and Christmas.

Thanksgiving

The US

American residents awoke to significantly transformed celebrations today as the coronavirus pandemic surged again in the country.

In New York City, the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been scaled back.

The event will only be televised, with spectators unable to line the streets; rather than more than two miles, its route will be a block long; and balloon handlers have been replaced by specially rigged vehicles.

“And that's so that we can keep everybody at home safe,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of the parade.

“This year, more than ever, it’s really important that we still have something for everybody to tune into on Thanksgiving morning.”

Restrictions in the US differ widely from state to state as they are typically decided by state governors or local authorities, not the federal government.

Most counties are under a 10pm to 5am curfew in California, the most populous state, after it reported a record number of coronavirus cases on Wednesday – more than 18,000.

Businesses in Texas are largely open but masks are mandatory for its citizens.

In Nevada, governor Steve Sisolak tightened restrictions on casinos, restaurants and private gatherings on Tuesday, while local authorities in the main cities of Missouri cracked down on bars and restaurants found to violate prevention rules.

The US has recorded more than 12.7 million coronavirus infections and over 262,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and deaths have surged to more than 1,600 per day, a mark last seen in May.

More than 88,000 people – an all-time high – were in the hospital with Covid-19 as of Tuesday, pushing the health care system in many places to the breaking point.

Public health officials including Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have pleaded residents to avoid travelling ahead of Thanksgiving and to keep Thanksgiving gatherings as small as possible.

But millions of Americans decided to fly or drive to meet with their families anyway, disregarding increasingly dire warnings that they stay home and limit their holiday gatherings to members of their own household.

Between 900,000 and 1 million people per day passed through US airport checkpoints from Friday 20 November through Tuesday 24 November, accounting for some of the highest numbers of passengers since the pandemic took hold in the US in March. Still, the figure is 60% lower from the same time a year ago.

More Americans drive than fly for Thanksgiving, and American Automobile Association said those numbers are also likely to be lower this year, though it did not release any figures.

Many others have cancelled travel plans and will connect with loved via video calls.

Christmas

The US

President Donald Trump and local governors have not outlined their plans for Christmas as the focus over the past few days has been discouraging people from going back to their families for Thanksgiving this week.

Last week, CNN host Jake Tapper interviewed Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease official, and asked him about how long the restrictions would be in place in the US.

Dr Fauci said that social distancing could still be required for some time into the new year, which prompted Tapper to say: “So, not until the second or third quarter of 2021, though? Christmas is probably not going to be possible?”

Dr Fauci said in response the country will see “a gradual accrual of more normality” as the weeks and the months go by, but added social distancing could last “well into 2021”.

France

The city of Colmar, Alsace, is seen back in 2017Getty Images
The city of Colmar, Alsace, is seen back in 2017Getty Images

France is preparing to ease its Covid-19 lockdown rules in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Since 30 October, a nationwide lockdown has been in place, only allowing people to leave their homes for specific reasons, such as food shopping, medical appointments, school or work or for exercise.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Le Journal du Dimanche that a three stage process is expected to be announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

He said: “There will be three steps to easing in view of the health situation and of risks tied to some businesses: a first step around 1 December, then before the year-end holidays, and then from January 2021.”

The aim is to allow people to see friends and family for Réveillon, a meal which is eaten on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning after people traditionally returned from the midnight church service.

Non-essential shops are predicted to open by 1 December so people can purchase presents. However, bars and restaurants could still have restrictions in place.

It’s not clear if the French will be allowed to travel to different parts of the country to spend time with their families or if churches will be open for Christmas mass.

On 20 November, Christmas Trees went on sale after they were ruled as “essential goods”.

Germany

The premiers of Germany’s 16 states met on Monday to decide what the next course of action for its citizens over Christmas will be.

Draft proposals have suggested a limit on gatherings to two households until 20 December, with potentially looser rules for the Christmas holiday period.

Germany saw a spike in infections in October and daily case numbers have exceeded 20,000 on certain days over the last few weeks.

As a result, restaurants, pubs, theatres, museums and swimming pools were shut again at the start of November.

Germans will be hoping that they will be able to gather together on Heiligabend, the evening of 24 December, for their celebrations. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to outline plans for it.

Spain

Over in Spain, where there is western Europe's second highest tally of infections after France, a six-month state of emergency was imposed at the end of October.

Regions subsequently imposed curfews and restricted travel to citizens.

The government of the Madrid region, one of Spain's worst-hit, said on Friday it would prevent people from leaving and entering for 10 days from 4 December to avoid mass travel around the 6 December Constitution Day holiday, which marks Spain’s transition to becoming a constitutional monarchy and democracy.

Much like the French and British, Spaniards will be hoping to ease lockdown measures so they can go to midnight mass with their relatives and friends on Christmas Eve.

As part of Nochebuena, as it’s called in Spain, sees people often meet early for a few drinks with friends then return home to enjoy a meal with the family.

How Spain will also manage restrictions leading up to the New Year and start of January are also yet to be confirmed by officials.

As Christmas Day as seen as more of a relaxed day in Spain, families will be keen to see each other on 6 January for Día de los Reyes Magos (Feast of the Epiphany), as that is when people tend to exchange gifts.

Italy

Many Italian regions are under partial lockdown to try to slow the outbreak, with restrictions due to stay in place until at least 3 December.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned the Italians they would not be able to give hugs and kisses to others to curb a potential surge in deaths and infections.

"We will have to spend the festivities in a more sober way. Big parties, kisses and hugs will not be possible, this would mean an abrupt rise in the (infection) curve in January," he said, adding: "We hope that we can still buy and exchange gifts."

Scandinavia

In Sweden, the country which has remained largely open during lockdown, some of its Christmas traditions are also being cancelled this year. Skansen, Stockholm's popular open-air museum, and its traditional Christmas market will be closed this year for the first time in its 129-year history because of restrictions.

Last week, Sweden set its strictest virus restrictions to date by banning public gatherings of more than eight people to curb a record number of infections in recent weeks that are burdening the healthcare system. A nationwide ban on alcohol after 10pm in restaurants, bars and nightclubs has also been brought in, meaning that Sweden could see a tougher Christmas this year.

Over in Norway, non essential shops are open even though there are restrictions, such as wearing face masks, in place in certain areas that are more densely populated, including the city of Oslo. Under current rules, private homes including gardens and cabins are not allowed more than five guests from outside the household. The current restrictions are in place until earlier December, given Norwegians hope of a normal Christmas.

Denmark faced tightened restrictions in the last few weeks after an outbreak of the virus was found in mink farms. It prompted seven municipalities to be placed into lockdown, with plans to keep them under restrictions until 3 December. However, some areas reopened on Friday, allowing people to freely move between the borders and restaurants to open for business. The country is projected to have a normal Christmas this year, which church services and family dinners being held on Christmas eve.

Japan

Japan, which has only started celebrating Christmas over the last few decades, has recently started to see numbers of coronavirus cases creeping up again - potentially putting its festive celebrations on hold.

Its number of cases hit a record number of 2,508 cases on Sunday, the fourth day in a row numbers have spiked.

Senior officials have said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government may reimpose limits on sports and other large events to curb the surge.

The limits could be applied in areas of the country reporting a sharp increase in cases, Nishimura said on a talkshow on the public broadcaster NHK.

As a result of the rising cases, Mr Suga has not outlined his plans for Christmas yet, suggesting he hopes that Japanese people will be able to celebrate with their families as usual by 25 December.

Australia and New Zealand

Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said plans to open a border between New Zealand and Australia for Christmas is now unlikely to happen due to the different ways the two countries are combatting the virus.

Australia is has a suppression strategy, which involves locking down hotspots where cases reach a certain threshold, New Zealand has an elimination strategy, which saw the country enter into a quarantine early on to prevent the virus from spreading.

It means that sporting matches, concerts and eating and drinking out are all possible in New Zealand, which looks like it families will be able to spend Christmas together as normal this year.

Australia, much like other parts of the world, has different lockdown rules in different areas. However, most rules state that people are able to have a limited number of people inside their homes, which means that they too will be able to see their families during the holiday.

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