With less than six weeks to go until 25 December, it is still not clear what way we will be able to celebrate Christmas and the run-up to it this year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Taoiseach said this week that an "exit plan" from Level 5 restrictions is currently being worked on and that the Government will tell people what that is before the end of November.

But in the meantime, how are those who play a key role in the festive season making preparations?

Public worship

Those involved in preparing religious services said it is still not clear if people will be able to attend Christmas mass or other public worship as it is not permitted in Level 3 and above.

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he thinks churches will be open leading up to Christmas week - giving religious believers some hope that traditional services can go ahead.

Choirs

The Palestrina Choir in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral is busily preparing for Christmas services but in a different way than ever before.

It is currently permitted to have a limited number of choristers attending rehearsals and performances in the church at any one time. Other practice is taking place online.

Blánaid Murphy, director of choral music at the Pro Cathedral, said he is determined that Christmas performances will happen, at a minimum virtually and - if restrictions allow - with a limited audience.

Palestrina choristers in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin

She has already arranged a pre-recording of some services which will be made available on Vimeo or streamed so people can still enjoy carols which she believes are as essential a part of Christmas as trees and turkeys.

Christmas experiences

Luggwoods has been running a 'Christmas Experience' in Saggart in the Dublin mountains for the past five years. In the past, it has involved a Santa train and a visit to Mr and Mrs Claus in a barn.

Luggwoods have completely rebuilt their experience to make it outdoors only this year. The train has been replaced by a walking trail through an enchanted forest and the meeting with Santa will happen outdoors.

Luggwoods director Elaine Kelly said tickets have been selling well but the experience can only go ahead if Level 5 restrictions are lifted allowing people to travel further than 5km.

If we get to Level 2, she said some aspects of the event could move back indoors but for now they are advising people to dress well for the weather and are praying for limited rain in December.

Santa visits

A visit to Santa in Arnotts has been a tradition for many families in the capital but the retailer said it cannot yet confirm if Mr Claus is going to be able to make his annual visit to the grotto.

However, there are some uniquely 2020 alternatives which may give children an opportunity to make their personal Santa requests without going very far.

Children in Ireland are being asked to send their letters to Santa as early as possible because the Elves are working in pods this year due to Covid-19 and need a little bit more time as a result.

Adverts have begun appearing on social media for a number of drive-in and drive-through Santa experiences. Among them is one being held in the RDS where the family can visit Santa and the elves without ever leaving the car.

Santa's Snowglobe is one of a number of number of companies offering virtual visits to Santa using Zoom. Families can make an appointment with the Elves to link up with the North Pole and have a chat to Santa.

When this reporter had a chance to try it out, Santa knew my name and that I had been very good this year.

He also asked RTÉ News to pass on a message to children in Ireland to send their letters to Santa as early as possible because the Elves are working in pods this year due to Covid-19 and need a little bit more time as a result.

Pantos

Many of those in the panto business believed it would be a case of "oh no it's not" for the annual Christmas performances that usually take place in venues across the country.

But after some grants were made available to the industry from the Department of Arts it looks like it may be a case of "oh yes it is" for a number of productions. 

Panto workers hope the show can go on but details of how they will take place, how many people will be involved on stage and how many audience members can be there to shout "he's behind you" are still being finalised.

The organisers of the annual panto in the Helix at Dublin City University have said their performance of 'The Sword in the Stone' will go ahead online, with panto fans able to tune in from the comfort of their own homes.

A Christmas display in a Dublin shop window (pic: Rollingnews.ie)

Festive trading

The retail sector, restaurants and the pub trade are all anxiously awaiting the Government's announcement on what will happen after 1 December and the details of that will determine how their business will function before and during Christmas this year.

On the basis of how things operated when these sectors previously reopened, there's been general acceptance that the traditional Christmas party is cancelled for 2020.

The Taoiseach all but confirmed this last week when he said there will be no going "on the lash" this festive season.