To ring out a year the world wishes had been an illusion, the biggest event in Paris really was one. It is called, perhaps optimistically, “Welcome to the Other Side.”
From within a virtual Notre-Dame Cathedral — a resurrected, reimagined version of the fire-gutted treasure — the city livestreamed a computer-generated concert and light show, with no one actually inside the cavernous landmark, and no crowd outside.
Most people now living have never seen a year that Europe, like much of the world, was so eager to bid good riddance to — or so unable to send off with any fanfare. Vaccines are the first real rays of hope, but the coronavirus still reigns unchecked, a new variant is stoking new fears, and much of the continent is under some form of lockdown.
Concerts? Canceled. Crowds and parties? Banned. Staying out all night? Don’t even think about it. Across Europe, where Covid-19 has killed almost 600,000 people, cities and nations sent the message that the only acceptable place to spend New Year’s Eve was at home, and they tried to arrange enough spectacle broadcast or online to keep people there.
“Covid loves a crowd,” said Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director for England in Britain’s National Health Service. “So please leave the parties for later in the year.”
In a televised address from the Élysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron of France — recovering from his own bout of the virus — said that “the year 2020 ends as it unfolded: with efforts and restrictions.”
In Berlin, the traditional TV broadcast from the Brandenburg Gate went off without fireworks or live spectators. It is one of 56 popular New Year’s Eve spots around the city that the authorities are closing overnight in the hopes of dissuading outdoor gatherings, which are prohibited. Indoor get-togethers are limited to five adults from no more than two households. The sale of private fireworks, a tradition for the holiday Germans call Sylvester because it is the feast day of St. Sylvester, was banned — though some went off, anyway. “It is necessary that this be the probably quietest New Year’s Eve that Germany can remember,” said Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister.
Instead of its annual outdoor live concert, Rome substituted a celebration streamed online, with a range of performances, and a hard-to-describe event, part concert, part light show and part stargazing, titled “How to Hear the Universe in a Spider/Web.” With Italy under a 10 p.m. curfew and the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks banned, President Sergio Mattarella said in his annual address that the pandemic had changed the country, “sharpening the fragilities of the past, aggravating old inequalities and generating new ones.”
In Geneva, fireworks around Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Leman) at the heart of the city were canceled, and bars and restaurants were closed, though restrictions on private gatherings were eased from five to 10 people. Many residents of the quiet city had departed for Swiss ski resorts that remained open — much to the chagrin of neighboring European countries who have opted to shutter their slopes to prevent the further spread of coronavirus cases.
In London, Big Ben, largely silent in recent years as its clock tower underwent renovations, was to ring 12 times at midnight, one of the few standout moments in a country where major celebrations were canceled. For most Britons, getting together with anyone outside their own households was forbidden, a rule backed up by a fine of up to 1,000 pounds, or more than $1,300.
Madrid eased its curfew for the night from midnight to 1:30 a.m., which would usually count as early for a night out in Spain, but the traditional gathering in the Puerta del Sol square was canceled. People were told to stay at home as much as possible, eating the traditional New Year’s Eve grapes while watching events on TV, and gathering in groups of no more than six.
And in Paris, the only people roaming the Champs-Élysées — where just a year ago, some 300,000 people assembled for a huge fireworks display — were some of the 100,000 police officers deployed around the country to prevent crowds from gathering. City officials urged people to watch the virtual Notre-Dame concert by the electronic music artist Jean-Michel Jarre, an event bridging the ancient and the modern, the old year and the new, the pandemic and the hope that it will end. It would be a message of hope and a “tribute to Notre-Dame, which is weakened,” Mr. Jarre told French media, “like all of us.”