Australians have enjoyed relatively mild weather across the nation on Christmas Day, the first celebrated under the shadow of COVID-19.
Most major capital cities were overcast with peak temperatures in the high teens to mid-20s, barring Perth which is in for a scorching 37C.
Family gatherings were restricted in Sydney, where the pandemic’s impact is being felt the hardest this year.
Some of the harshest rules were in the city’s northern beaches area, where a virus cluster on December 25 jumped to 108 infections.
“I don’t think anyone is having a normal Christmas across NSW,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday.
Meanwhile, thousands of others are spending Christmas in hotel quarantine or home isolation.
Despite this, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his Christmas message that Australia had much to be grateful for despite the pandemic, which has killed 908 people.
“Australians are amazing people with an amazing spirit. And this year the Australian spirit has shone brightly again,” he said.
The spirit of Christmas shone brightly at a homeless shelter in Sydney’s inner west where more than 2000 people received a free lunch of ham, turkey, vegetables and pudding.
The annual event is usually hosted by the Reverend Bill Crews Foundation in Ashfield as a sit-down affair, but not this year
All of the meals distributed by the charity were takeaway only and the event was COVID-safe.
“We’re determined not to let COVID-19 be the Christmas grinch,” foundation director Rev Crews said on Friday.
“The homeless and needy have suffered more than most this year, so our takeaway lunch is designed to bring joy to their Christmas Day.”
As well, there were presents for kids and a visit from Santa with plenty of face masks and hand sanitiser to go around.
Christian religious leaders have urged adherents to recognise the joy in their lives this Christmas after a “harrowing” year.
“It’s been a year like no other. A year of anxieties. A year of isolation,” said Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies suggested Christmas could be the circuit breaker Australians need after a challenging year.
“For most of us, we will just make it to the finish line, and will be glad to see the back of 2020,” Davies said.
Many Christmas services took place online this year because church attendance numbers were restricted due to social distancing rules.
Meanwhile, retailers are pinning their hopes on a post-Christmas splurge of nearly $3 billion during the Boxing Day sales.
The National Retail Association believes it will be the biggest single spending day of the Christmas season with discounts of up to 70 per cent in the offing.
Again, shoppers are being reminded to practice social distancing, wear masks while indoors and use hand sanitiser frequently when visiting stores to prevent COVID-19 infection.