Reader stories: Separated from family over the holidays and a very first Christmas in Prague

With COVID-19 restrictions forcing many to cancel their annual travel plans, we spoke to readers who will be homesick for the holidays.

Tom Lane

Written by Tom Lane
Published on 21.12.2020 12:00 (updated on 21.12.2020)

2020 has not been the year that many people envisioned. The COVID pandemic has hit us all hard in one way or another and at Christmas time--a time for family--this continues to be the case.

For many the dream of flying home for the holidays has been limited or cancelled, with various restrictions in place across the globe and a number of flights cancelled or reduced in numbers.

Many have made the decision to stay put, to spend Christmas in Prague with their Czech family, friends, colleagues or a a small group of family members.

Marc, 38, from Britain has been living in Prague for over six years. He was planning to visit his mother along with his wife and his one-year-old child, but given the current climate decided it was too much a risk.

He said: “The plan was to take our daughter back because she's 20-months-old, so last Christmas we spent here in the Czech Republic and we agreed with my mum that this Christmas we were going back to the UK, but obviously when the quarantine started in the UK and the situation got worse, we felt less comfortable travelling with a small child so in mid-to-late November we had to make the hard decision that we would be staying here in the Czech Republic for this Christmas.”

The decision was particularly hard for Marc, with his mother having to spend Christmas without family this year, however, she will still be able to meet with friends over the festive period.

“Unfortunately, my dad passed away last year but mum spent last Christmas with my brother and his family, that's not possible this year because of the way the bubbling system works in the UK. She lives quite far away from my brother so the plan was always that we were going to be with her this Christmas so she wouldn't be on her own, but because of COVID--and she fully understands and supports our decision--we are not able to travel, so it's going to be a difficult Christmas for her and us, knowing that she will be without close family for this one.”

This year is going to be the first Christmas abroad for another expat living in the Czech Republic, with Danni, spending her first Czech Christmas in Prague.

Danni with her family at a previous Christmas dinner and Marc with his daughter from a previous Christmas
Danni with her family at a previous Christmas dinner and Marc with his daughter from a previous Christmas

The 22-year-old is from the UK but has lived in New Zealand and had planned to spend her holidays on the beach.

“If it wasn't for COVID I would like to have been back in New Zealand for Christmas this year in the summertime. I was supposed to travel back there in March for my birthday to see my family, that got cancelled because of COVID. Once again when we went into lockdown, I tried to fly back home, my flight got cancelled. To go back to New Zealand it's two weeks quarantine, it's over $3,000 and it's impossible to get a flight home, it's not worth the hassle so I'm staying here," she told us.

"I think it's definitely making me feel a bit homesick that I won't be able to spend Christmas with family, it's normally a big celebration for me. Even in New Zealand we do a big traditional British Christmas with all friends and family. Last year I spent it in the UK with my family, so I think it's going to be very different. I don't think it will be as much of a celebration as it normally is. I think it should still be quite fun, a different sort of family is a good way to put it. Christmas, for me, is a very family-orientated time, so I think this will be quite a big change.”

Danni says she was looking forward to spending this year in the Czech Republic, but hasn’t really been able to enjoy the typical Prague Christmas experience given the limitations on Christmas markets and restrictions on gatherings over the last few months.

“I spend a lot of time walking around the city, the Christmas markets are obviously not quite going but it's been nice to see on evening walks the mulled wine and the chimney cakes and things like that. Also seeing snow around Christmas--when it snowed the other week--that was really cool for me because growing up in New Zealand it's really sunny at Christmas. I haven't been able to get into it, I know that Prague is renowned for its Christmas markets, but I haven't really been able to see that this year because of COVID, which is a shame."

Someone else impacted by a COVID-hit Christmas is Tom, who has been living in the Czech Republic for four years but usually goes home to see family at this time of year.

He will be spending it with some friends and one of their families and says he made the decision early on.

“To be honest, I kind of had [not going home] in my mind, even in October really, when they did the new lockdown it was obvious to me that there wouldn't be a possibility to me to go home. It would be too much hassle to get the test done and to find a flight and then to quarantine in the UK and get a flight back. I'd already made a decision, with my parents saying we probably won't see you this year, it was something we all knew was probably going to happen."

Tom says while he won’t be able to go back to the UK this year, he will still be able to pick up some of his home comforts, with shops and supermarkets remaining open in the days leading up to Christmas.

“Luckily, my friend is Indian so she's quite fussy with the food as well as me. I'm a kind of vegetarian so I'd usually go home and have some vegetarian food back in the UK. So, no turkeys or things like that anyway. I think it will be eating a lot of potato salad and this kind of stuff. It's going to be ok as well because his family are going to prepare some special food and we've still got all the British supermarkets over here so we can still get our Christmas pudding and mince pies!”

While many people are disappointed that their plans later this week have had to change, it seems that many have adapted and are still looking forward to their merry little Christmas this year. 

It was announced this week that midnight mass will go ahead but there is a limit on the number of people allowed to attend services, so plan ahead if you wish to go and check with your local church. Currently, shops will remain open and will also open on the morning of Dec. 24 even if the current state of emergency is extended. Midnight mass aside, a curfew remains in place in place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a maximum of six people are allowed to gather indoors and outdoors. This information is correct as of Dec. 21, however, at press time, additional restrictions were being discussed.