World celebrates Christmas like no other, in shadow of pandemic

Global Christmas celebrations are taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of people limiting festivities in a bid to spread further contagion.

Many will spend their Christmas grieving, after the health crisis claimed the lives of 1.7 million people so far this year.In Lebanon, the government lifted most virus measures ahead of the holidays, hoping to stimulate the economy. Tens of thousands of Lebanese expatriates arrived home for the holidays, but there were some fears this could lead to a surge in cases during the festive season.

Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East – about a third of its 5 million people – and traditionally celebrates Christmas with much fanfare.

Egypt has called off all New Year’s celebrations to stem a rise in cases.

Meanwhile, celebrations in Europe were cancelled or greatly scaled back as virus infections rose across the continent amid fears of a new, more infectious variant.

In the United Kingdom, people welcomed Christmas Eve with a Brexit trade deal, news received with relief and, by some, a dash of scepticism.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson posted a video on his Twitter account delivering his Christmas message. Waving the thick stack of papers documenting the Brexit trade deal with the European Union (EU) in front of the cameras, Johnson said it is a “small present for anyone who may be looking for something to read in that sleepy post-Christmas lunch moment”.In Italy, church bells rang earlier than usual. The Italian government’s 10pm (09:00GMT) curfew prompted pastors to move up services, with “midnight” mass starting Thursday evening in some churches as early as a couple of hours after dark.Pope Francis, who just celebrated his 84th birthday, fell in line and held a mass in a rear section of Saint Peter’s Basilica with fewer than 100 participants and only a small number of cardinals and bishops.In Greece,  Christmas Eve was eerily silent. In normal times, voices of children singing carols while tinkling metal triangles can be heard all day. The decades-old custom, in which children go house to house and receive small gifts, was banned this year.

Groups of children managed to honour the tradition by singing to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis by video link – including students from a school for children with hearing difficulties who performed in sign language.

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