The world celebrates its second Christmas under the Covid-19 pandemic, with new hope for a better future.

A gigantic Christmas tree wowed people at the West Kowloon cultural district in Hong Kong as billions around the world celebrated Christmas under the shadow of the coronavirus.
A gigantic Christmas tree wowed people at the West Kowloon cultural district in Hong Kong as billions around the world celebrated Christmas under the shadow of the coronavirus. (AFP)

An explosion in cases driven by the rise of the Omicron variant has meant a Christmas season tainted by the pandemic for a second year running.

Still, people around the world are finding ways to celebrate while still staying safe at a time of surging cases.

It seems Christmas gatherings will be easier than a year ago in many places around the world.

The Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's Square, Vatican, was attended by thousands wearing masks and respecting social distancing.
The Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's Square, Vatican, was attended by thousands wearing masks and respecting social distancing. (Vatican Media / AFP)

Pope Francis, in his traditional Urbi and Orbi Christmas Day blessing on Saturday, called for dialogue to counter the isolation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw," the Pope said.

"On the international level, too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue," he added.

Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo Antoine Audo led Christmas mass at the Saint Elias Chaldean church in Syria's northern city of Aleppo as Christmas was celebrated in other parts of the country as well.
Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo Antoine Audo led Christmas mass at the Saint Elias Chaldean church in Syria's northern city of Aleppo as Christmas was celebrated in other parts of the country as well. (AFP)

In Bethlehem's Manger Square, visitors in Santa hats and scouts beating drums marked Christmas Eve, but numbers were lower than usual.

In his homily for midnight mass celebrated in St Catherine's Church in Bethlehem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa said celebrations were "certainly more joyful this year".

Catholic faithful attended Christmas mass in their destroyed church in Alegria, Surigao del Norte province in the Philippines, over a week later Super Typhoon Rai devastated the province.
Catholic faithful attended Christmas mass in their destroyed church in Alegria, Surigao del Norte province in the Philippines, over a week later Super Typhoon Rai devastated the province. (AFP)

In the Philippines, people celebrated Christmas Day mass, praying for a better year after a storm that killed nearly 400 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

"What's important is all of us are safe," said Joy Parera, 31, said while attending mass in a typhoon-hit church.

Christian devotees attend a Christmas mass at a church in Ahmedabad, India.
Christian devotees attend a Christmas mass at a church in Ahmedabad, India. (AFP)

For the second year, surging infections have complicated yuletide plans from Sydney to Seville.

The new coronavirus strain severely disrupted holiday travel, with tracking website Flightaware.com reporting more than 4,500 flights had been cancelled around the world, hundreds of them in the United States.

Downtown Moscow was adorned with Christmas and New Year decorations, attracting people into the snowy streets.
Downtown Moscow was adorned with Christmas and New Year decorations, attracting people into the snowy streets. (AFP)

In Europe, governments are reimposing misery-inducing safety measures that are draining the fun from Christmas for many.

The Netherlands is back in lockdown, while Spain and Italy have made wearing masks compulsory outdoors.

Worshippers were seen praying and listening to the Christmas Eve mass inside the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Podgorica, Montenegro.
Worshippers were seen praying and listening to the Christmas Eve mass inside the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Podgorica, Montenegro. (AFP)

Britain  has hit a record high number of Covid-19 infections again on Friday for a third day in a row.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in turn, suggested getting a vaccine booster shot as a Christmas gift for relatives.

Volunteers and medics in Santa hats brought Christmas cheer to people in line to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in east London.
Volunteers and medics in Santa hats brought Christmas cheer to people in line to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in east London. (AFP)

Most Australians are allowed to travel interstate over the festive break for the first time in two years, with Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher saying that Christmas was "a ray of light" in dark times.

And Santa Claus was not deterred from doing his rounds, after showing proof of vaccination and a pre-flight negative Covid test, Ottawa's transport minister said.

According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) Santa-tracking website, Father Christmas had delivered 7.6 billion gifts during his 2021 sleigh ride around the world.

Santa didn't miss Iraq either, with Mohamed Maarouf, 28, carrying Christmas cheer in his sack of gifts while dressed in a Santa Claus costume in Iraq's southern city of Basra.
Santa didn't miss Iraq either, with Mohamed Maarouf, 28, carrying Christmas cheer in his sack of gifts while dressed in a Santa Claus costume in Iraq's southern city of Basra. (AFP)
Source: TRTWorld and agencies