Europe's push to save Christmas

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Europe's push to save Christmas

The sun was shining this morning in Berlin, but the atmosphere was dreary. Lawmakers tried to shout down Chancellor Angela Merkel in parliament. Germany and France announced their toughest lockdowns since the spring on Wednesday, set to last the whole month of November at the very least.

The carrot dangling at the end of the stick is Christmas. In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron said he "hopes we can celebrate Christmas and year-end holidays with our families." In an agenda for Merkel's meeting with state chiefs, the Chancellery wrote that the goal is to stop the wave of infections now so that "at Christmastime no broad restrictions on personal contacts and economic activity will be necessary."

French President Emmanuel Macron's evening televised address to the nation.

Photographer: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP

In a normal year, the holidays would be swinging into gear in the last weekend of November. German parents shop for trinkets and chocolates to tuck into their children's shoes on Dec. 6, which is St. Nikolaus Day. 
Parisians crowd the streets around the capital's old Opera house to look at the animated toys and glittering lights being installed in department store windows.

This year, Paris departments stores probably won't open in November at all. Christmas markets, including tourist magnets such as the markets in Nuremberg and Strasbourg, are already being canceled. 

Some lawmakers doubt whether countries can turn the tide in time to save the holiday season. As the hubbub in Germany's parliament on Thursday morning showed, this second wave of lockdowns is unpopular; leaders fear people will be less careful to comply than they were at the outset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, infections are surging—and hospitals are starting to fill. Macron warned that French intensive-care facilities will have 9,000 patients, close to capacity, by November even if infections ebb. And the head of France's scientific council, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, expects the holidays to take place in small groups and probably still under curfew. 

"This pandemic is a medical, economic, social, political and psychological test," Merkel said on Thursday. Whether it also steals Europe's Christmas will depend on how the continent's residents can pull together in the next few weeks.—Naomi Kresge, Marthe Fourcade and Arne Delfs

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