Settlement Guide

Celebration in isolation

Christmas zoom call Source: Getty Images/ArtistGNDphotography

Celebrations of important family, cultural and religious occasions have had to adjust to the social distancing rules and travel bans in 2020. While some are eagerly awaiting the easing of restrictions to reunite with loved ones, others are busy strategising new ways to celebrate the survival of an especially tough year.


  • Some people are postponing their family Christmas celebration while some borders remain shut.
  • The More the Merrier project aims to tackle the problem of loneliness many seniors feel around Christmas by hosting an online celebration.
  • Some Melbournians are planning to celebrate this Christmas outdoors to bypass indoor gathering restrictions of 30.

After 112 days of lockdown in Melbourne, Greece-born Effie Atkins who lives with lung cancer is hopeful that she will be able to keep the family traditions of Christmas alive albeit in an outdoor setting this year. 

“I don’t have a fear because I am careful. I check first what I do, what consequences that will have?”   

Growing up in Greece, Atkins was raised experiencing Christmas celebrated amongst family and friends in the rich and traditional culture of her mother country. 

Taking precautions such as wearing a mask and practicing regular hand hygiene, she plans to get into the spirit of Christmas with each of her seven grandchildren individually over a week.  

“To prepare each day one dish or biscuit or cake or doing the Christmas tree.” 

Effie Atkins
Effie Atkins

Sydney-based filmmaker Kylie Grey was going through a particularly difficult time not being able to make concrete plans to see her Brisbane-based father who has terminal cancer with the border between Queensland and Greater Sydney remaining shut during most of this year.  

“Everything’s a little bit up in the air and we’re trying to work out alternatives.”  

Some of the problems Grey encountered include not being able to confirm flights or make concrete travel plans in what is possibly the last Christmas celebration with her father.  

“If he gets really sick, I’ll have to quarantine before I’m able to see him for 2 weeks and he might pass away while I’m quarantining.”  

Grey admits that working around these dreaded scenarios has had a massive impact around the family’s mental health.

COVID-19 has required families to rethink how they come together in celebrating special occasions.

Despite living in different states, she was able to spend some time with her father in Byron Bay when Queensland briefly opened its border to all of New South Wales between July 10 to August 8.  

“Basically, bypassing all those quarantine rules - such a great time - I’m really glad that I did it.” 

Her Father’s Day though was replaced by an online celebration via Zoom when the family was unable to physically meet.  

“We ordered Greek food. It was kind of novel and fun but of course, it’s much nicer to actually be there.” 

Thankfully, new announcement from the Queensland government of its border reopening to residents of Greater Sydney from December 1st means Grey’s family will be able to physically reunite and can now finalise their Christmas plans.  

Cultural theorist and sociology professor James Arvanitakis of Western Sydney University says celebrations often reflect people’s identity and are essential especially during a global pandemic. 

Moments of celebration are supposed to be those moments where we take stock and stop and reflect on things. 

Professor Arvanitakis says not being able to celebrate important occasions face-to-face can accentuate loneliness and a sense of isolation.  

He suggests that where people are unable to physically meet, they can anticipate that sense of longing to be together and instead finding ways to compensate for that.  

He shares the experience of celebrating his birthday in hotel quarantine alone following his return from America.

Garden dinner
Garden dinner
Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions

What made it special for him was a short video put together by his friends to wish him a happy birthday.  

“It did make me feel really connected and also knowing that they’ve put effort into doing that.” 

Professor Arvanitakis says anything that you can do to show people that you are thinking of them is really important and will counteract those feelings of longing or those feelings of isolation. 

That sense of loneliness is what not-for-profit provider Feros Cares’ Be Someone For Someone initiative aims to tackle.  

Since one in four Australians currently experience loneliness, Jo Winwood who heads the initiative says her team is putting together an online Christmas celebration via Zoom for older people around Australia who are too afraid to leave their homes at the moment.  

“We know that Christmas is the loneliest time of the year regardless of self-isolation and all the things we’ve experienced.”  

Winwood encourages those who can offer a helping hand to elderly neighbours who live alone or seniors who crave social interaction to get creative this Christmas.  

She recommends finding ways of encouraging others to allow you to be involved if you are on your own.  

“They will not mind you asking if you could go and help them put up their Christmas tree or whether you can bake them some mince pies.”

Celebrating online
Celebrating online
Getty Images/izusek

Winwood says it is about recalibrating your thinking to provide the opportunity for others to engage with you.  

“I am not being a pain, I am not being a burden, people want to help me.”  

An expert in the culture of resilience, Professor Arvanitakis has studied disaster-stricken communities in Australia and other parts of the world.  

His study shows that most cultures respond well to initial shocks such as a bushfire or a terrorist attack. But after coming to terms with the once-in-a century coronavirus pandemic, what people need to be aware of is its lingering effects.  

One way of managing that, he suggests, is to be prepared for changes in case a vaccine is not available until a much later date than you initially anticipated.  

“We do need a Plan B and a Plan C, and possibly, a Plan D.”

100th Birthday
100th Birthday

As for Atkins who is battling her own lung cancer, celebrations don’t need to happen on traditional dates in an unpredictable public health environment.  

“Christmas day is every day when I am with friends and family and remember 2020 Christmas: what a year!” 

To find out how you can help tackle loneliness this Christmas, visit Be Someone For Someone’s the More the Merrier page.  

To find out more about coronavirus information in your language, visit   

For 24/7 free over-the-phone emotional support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

If you need interpretation, call the National Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 and ask to connect to your preferred service.