People wearing masks for protection against COVID-19 pray prior to the start of the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Countries across Europe celebrate Christmas Eve under the specter of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
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Santa Claus got around quite a bit last month — despite the pandemic.

There he was speaking to a toddler at a Christmas fair in Venezuela's capital. Linking arms in a prayer circle with leather-clad members of a faith-based Missouri motorcycle club. In Gaza City, not one but two Santas posed with restaurant-goers for a selfie in front of a tall tree bedecked with ornaments.

The sightings of the red-suited, white-bearded bearer of gifts and good cheer came as people around the world observed Christmas and other year-end holidays, as captured by AP photographers in December.

In Cuba, followers of Saint Lazarus held flowers and prayed during a pilgrimage on his feast day around mid-month; a week later, on Christmas Eve, a man poured a shot of run to celebrate the sidewalk butchering of a pig for his family to eat during the holidays.

In Israel, Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students lit candles on the first day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights.

And in Nepal, a devotee’s face glowed orange from an oil lamp on the banks of the Bagmati River during the Hindu festival of Bala Chaturdashi, honoring the memory of departed loved ones.

Amid celebration there was also grief, as the pandemic’s toll climbed to over 1.8 million confirmed dead worldwide as of the end of 2020.

In northern Iran, relatives of a COVID-19 victim mourned in face masks at a funeral amid the gray slabs of a hilltop cemetery.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, a family watched from a safe distance as municipal workers in head-to-toe protective equipment carried a coffin bearing a relative who also died from the coronavirus and was to be cremated.

These and more are among the AP’s top faith-related images from December.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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