It’s a new year. But while we all look to the coming weeks and months, it is worth thinking back to the past weeks. The holidays in 2020 have not been easy. Due to the pandemic, many people grappled with the difficult choice whether to spend the festive season with their families or alone. How did they decide? E&M asked young Europeans how they spent their holidays this year. Read on to hear from those who decided to go home and see friends and family, and head over to HEART for an article by someone who didn’t. 

Fernando (27)

I had not seen my family for almost a year, and so not going home for Christmas was not really an option. In Portugal, where I am from, Christmas is a very important tradition that involves being with your family, eating a lot of food and spending time together. During the Christmas holidays, all my friends from my home-town are back as well, and it is always the perfect time to meet each other. Of course, this year was very different from all others. Traveling from Argentina, I did two tests prior to departure, and I had made sure to self-isolate in the weeks before. Upon arrival in Lisbon, a family-member came to pick me up.

Instead of seeing my friends, I mostly stayed home until Christmas. The most difficult part was seeing my grandfather. Despite all the precautions, I did not feel comfortable hugging him. It was, however, great to see him and to be able to chat with him. After being home for more than a week, I started to meet some friends. We mostly met outside and made sure to keep a distance – everyone was staying with their family and none of us wanted to take any additional risks. Yet I am happy I did go home. We were all aware of the risks it involved, but we decided it was still worth it.

For a few days, the outside world did not exist.

Laura (26)

I live in Berlin, and my family lives in Munich. There are four of us, and we normally spend Christmas with my grandma and other relatives. Although the latter was not possible, not to spend Christmas with my Mum was never a real point of discussion. Instead, I took precautions: I isolated myself one week before travelling South, and took a PCR-test three days before. My boyfriend and I even rented a car so we would not have to go by train. Still, I was worried because my brother is severely disabled and lives in an institution. I was surprised we were allowed to take him home for the holidays.

During Christmas, I did not worry as much. We stayed home, had good food and watched a lot of movies. For a few days, the outside world did not exist. When I get back to Berlin in a couple of days, I will take another test, just to be sure.

Anon (32)

My thoughts before travelling: It’s different for me this year because I’m bringing home a new baby to Ireland from the UK. I am so excited. We’ve only been home once this year. I can’t wait to see everyone. I know it is going be very emotional. No one else who loves him has held him other than us until these holidays because we haven’t had a chance to get home with Covid-19. We’re going to be taking two tests: one leaving, one on arrival and hiding out until the results. It’s a lot of effort but so worth it.

My thoughts after: After five long days waiting for the second test result we were all-clear and able to hang with family. I ran up to my parents and hugged them hard. It was the best feeling! Then of course the next day, the announcements from the UK  came: “eat your Christmas dinner in your bedroom” even if you’ve been tested. This was the last thing I expected to hear on Christmas eve. It was so stressful and upsetting. On top of that baby got a cold and Christmas day morning was spent in the Doctors surgery. Thankfully the baby cheered up a bit the following day. Overall, we had a lovely Christmas but it has been very stressful. The Covid talk never stopped which really can’t be good for anyone’s mental health. We decided to return to the UK earlier than planned. Looking forward to a peaceful New Year’s Eve just the three of us.

Leire (24)

I was very excited to go back home to Spain because I felt worn out – I was tired from work and tired of the lockdown in Brussels, where I live. So I flew home as early as I could, three weeks before Christmas. I needed that change of scenery, to spend time with my family and friends. It was nice to get my energy back and to rest. Of course, I still had to work but after weeks of having been stuck in my shared flat in Brussels, I enjoyed being able to go to bars and restaurants again. It didn’t even feel much different than Christmas the years before – except from being worried about not being able to return back to Brussels and spend New Year’s with my partner because of changing travel restrictions.

Traveling home during these times did make us aware of how lucky we were.

Jessica (29)

I was always quite sure about going home for Christmas. My parents live in a large house in the Portuguese country-side, and they are not considered part of the risk-groups, nor are there any elderly family members living with us. As I am working remotely anyway, getting “stuck” at my parents’ place would never be a very difficult situation for me in case travel restrictions would change during my stay. So I was lucky to be able to go. For my partner it was a different situation. His job does not allow him to work remotely, and he only had a few days off around Christmas. Thus he was much less flexible and dependent on the situation.

Until the very last day, we were not sure if he would be able to join us in Portugal for Christmas. Living in Switzerland, the Swiss authorities had included Portugal on the list of risk-countries, meaning my partner would have to quarantine for 14 days upon return, which was no option considering his job. Yet a few days before his travel, the list was changed and Portugal was no longer a risk-country. Traveling home during these times did make us aware of how lucky we were – instead of taking it for granted that we can go home for Christmas, this year we realized that everything can change anytime and that many people had to spend the holidays by themselves. Therefore we were extremely grateful for the times we had with our family.

Chris (25)

I’m from Hong Kong, but I’ve lived and studied in Europe for the past three years, with some interruptions. I don’t celebrate Christmas, so even before the pandemic I never travelled home in December. Flights are quite expensive and I’d much rather go home for Chinese new year a couple of weeks later. What I did use to do, though, is travel around Europe in the winter. Two years ago I went from the UK to France, for example. And actually, even in this unusual year, I got to travel: spending Christmas with my girlfriend and her family in Spain. 

We hadn’t seen each other the past couple of months because of the pandemic, so we were happy this time travelling worked out. We both got tested before flying, and once we were there, in relatively warm weather (compared to the Swiss cold), spending time with her family and eating lots of good food, all the waiting and covid-coordination was worth it. 

Cover photo: by illustrator Ines Ehinger (@cloudsandillustrations)

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    Thoughts and experiences of young Europeans from across the continent.

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