For many, Christmas is a time to get together and celebrate with family and friends. However, this year will be celebrated remotely and virtually for most people around the world.
The holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ comes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made it dangerous to gather and interact. During Easter, some countries were under total lockdown.
Hekima Mugisha and his family of seven have been travelling to Democratic Republic of Congo since 2016 for their Christmas celebration. They would gather at a restaurant or at home in a group of over twenty family members and friends.
“It feels bad and a bit lonely that we will just stay at home. It barely feels like Christmas. But we understand the reason for it, we need to protect each other as a family, especially grandparents and the elderly,” he said.
He added that his family might turn to virtual calls and send gifts instead of meeting.
As Christmas approaches, more Covid-19 cases are being recorded and stricter measures are being put in place. Since Tuesday, December 15, movements are prohibited from 9pm to 4am in Rwanda. From December 22, the hours will be further tightened and the curfew will run from 8pm to 4am.
“The pandemic neither celebrates Christmas nor New Year. The festive season is not the time to forget about complying with Covid-19 measures,” said CP Jean Bosco Kabera, the Rwanda National Police spokesperson.
Remote celebrations are not the only strange thing about this year's Christmas.
Hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, which used to add a merry touch to family and friends’ gatherings with special promotional packages, buffets, dinners, brunches and entertainment shows, are now “unprepared for any festivities.”
The EastAfrican reached out to some of the biggest hotels in Rwanda such as Serena Hotel and Marriot Hotel, which used to offer promotional packages on Christmas day to their clients. They all replied that none of the services are available yet.
“We can't be sure if this Christmas is going to be celebrated like before. The situation is very different and keeps changing abruptly,” said Dorothee Ingabire, sales and marketing co-ordinator at Serena Hotel.
The same response was given by Simba supermarket that there are no plans as yet to help clients celebrate Christmas.
However, restaurants which have strengthened their delivery services are anticipating higher profits because as more people spend the festive season at home, the more in demand the delivery services will be.
Despite a surge in infections, Kigali city gets bright and colourful at night with decorative lights on roads, roundabouts and buildings.
Churches go virtual
A typical Rwandan Christmas sees pews full and churches crowded both in urban and rural areas. Currently, churches are only allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their capacity and have one gathering in a week.
Bishop Fidele Masengo of the Four-Square Church in Kigali said they have not figured out how the Christmas service will be held since it has extra activities such as exchanging gifts and helping the poor.
“We are familiar with church services on YouTube and Facebook. We will likely do the same on Christmas Day so that everyone in the congregation gets to attend. We are however still looking for safe ways to help the poor as is our norm,” he said.
Lavie Mutanganhsuro and his family spend their Christmas in church every year. Although he is hopeful that by Christmas Eve things might change, he says he will still be among the 50 percent allowed in the church. The family might hold a prayer at home if all fails.
“Spending Christmas at home is not as terrifying because we know what the odds are for gathering. Besides, we are familiar with virtual church services. We can still welcome Jesus Christ in our hearts from our homes,” he said.
Fred Kagwa from New Life Bible Church said they have moved some services such as Sunday School to YouTube. The Christmas service will be offered both in church and online.
In the past two weeks, the country has recorded a total of 814 infections and seven deaths. As of Tuesday, December 15, Rwanda had registered a total of 6,747 coronavirus cases, 5,996 recoveries, and 56 deaths.