Christmas is such a monumental date on the Christian calendar that during World War One, German and Allied troops declared an unofficial truce on December 25 and sang carols to each other across No Man’s Land.
Furthermore, they even emerged from the safety of their respective trenches to shake hands, exchange gifts and, in one instance, play a game of football. As German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch said of the magical interlude, “Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus is not familiar with Christmas, or any other traditional festival, and a potential truce is not on the negotiating table, even if it might be at the top of our Christmas wish list.
This was taken into account by the Chinese authorities early this year when they cancelled their biggest annual celebration, the 40-day-long Chinese New Year, reportedly avoiding an estimated 67-fold higher rate of infection than has been observed.
In April, Israel clamped down on travel and movement between households for the Jewish Passover and restrictions have again been tightened for the eight-day Jewish festival of Hannukah from December 10 to December 18 while the numbers of Muslims making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca throughout 2020 were severely curtailed.
This approach by the authorities to religious and traditional festivals amid the Covid pandemic contrasts sharply with what happened during the Spanish flu epidemic, which broke out at the end of the First World War.
In November 1918, celebrations marking the armistice spilled over into the holiday season and saw huge crowds gathering with little or no measures to avoid the spread of this deadly strain of flu, which is estimated to have killed 50 million worldwide.
Fortunately, more than 100 years later, governments are well aware of the cost of ignoring the virus and, as Christmas looms, we are all experiencing a scaled back version of the festive season, though not necessarily one that involves less Christmas cheer.
At King’s, students and teachers have gone all out to keep the Christmas spirit more alive than ever, engendering something akin to a Blitz mentality.
“In light of the challenges they have faced this year, we want our children to enjoy the Christmas preparations in school and to feel the excitement in the build up to this important holiday,” says Paula Parkinson, Head of Primary at King’s College Madrid.
At King’s College Alicante, Acting Head of Primary, Sharmila Gandhi, describes a similar scenario. “Christmas is undoubtedly very different to what we would do in normal years but, that said, I have been impressed by how our primary teachers have used the combination of creativity and technology to ensure that children can perform their Christmas plays, Christmas carols and other performances for their parents, which will be shared via various platforms,” she says.
According to Paula, the classrooms and corridors at King’s College Madrid are filled with decorations and the sounds of traditional Christmas songs can be heard in all parts of the school. “The pupils have got involved in the excitement of the decorating process and have been busy making their own decorations,” she says. “They have been incredibly creative, using mostly very simple equipment, such as paper, card, and ribbon. Some even collected bits from their gardens to make beautiful decorations.”
With the Christmas spirit at full throttle, generosity abounds with the students in Alicante raising money to provide the homeless with food and shelter at least over the Christmas period while a Christmas Jumper Day has raised funds for Save the Children Spain.
Meanwhile, at King’s College Madrid, a collection of Gift Boxes has been sent into the school by the students’ families to be distributed by Bomberos Ayudan to children in some of the more deprived areas of Madrid. “A huge thank you to all our families who have contributed to the collection,” says Paula.
Though nativity plays and concerts have been off the agenda in Madrid, each year group in the Primary School has recorded a special Christmas Song for a Christmas compilation to share with parents. “We hope that this way we can transmit our Christmas message to all our families,” says Paula.
Christmas may be “little” this year, but there is a massive drive around the world to keep it as “merry” as ever.