Last year, Stacey McLean spent her Christmas and New Year's Eve with friends in a remote, snow-capped mountain hideaway in British Columbia.
On Friday, her Christmas will be spent alone in a little hotel room in Christchurch. She is making snowflake decorations out of a lunch bag, and has ordered in a mini Christmas tree and some lights from an online store.
"It's a bit of a contrast," she laughed.
The expat New Zealander, who lives and works in New York, is one of 5700 people who will spend Christmas Day in managed isolation or quarantine. Some of them will still be in their hotel room for New Year's Eve.
On the day, McLean plans to share cheese and wine in a video call with friends, including another expat Georgia Mahaffie, who is in managed isolation in Christchurch.
Mahaffie, who also works in New York, said their more subdued Christmas was worth it for the reward on the other side - seeing and holding family for the first time in months.
"Especially if you've been in the States or the UK - it is a one-day sacrifice for complete freedom on the other side."
In many ways, it was a fitting end to a year lived mostly online.
"It's just a day in the course of a lifetime," McLean said. "And we've celebrated enough things online this year anyway - birthdays, everything was virtual."
They are grateful to have made it back at all. Competition for managed isolation spots in December was intense. Mahaffie said she "nearly broke the refresh button" for three days trying to secure a spot.
The 32 managed isolation and quarantine facilities around the country are going overboard to create some festive cheer this year without undermining strict Covid-19 rules distancing rules.
"We really want to make it special," said a manager at Naumi Auckland AIrport, who said families with around 30 children would be in the hotel on December 25.
"Families are going to be okay. We just need to keep an eye on the ones who are by themselves. That is the toughest part."
The hotel planned to cheer people up with a festive feast and activities. It was serving a Christmas platter of cured meats and cheese for breakfast, Christmas mince pies and cinnamon cookies for morning and afternoon tea, champagne ham or vegetarian salad for lunch, roast lamb with truffle butter and baby potatoes for dinner, and steam pudding and pavlovas for pudding.
Children will be invited to visit a Christmas tree in the lobby to pick up a present. But - because of isolation rules - they can only do so one child at a time.
One of the most difficult things had been finding someone to play Santa.
"I'm yet to find one," the manager said. "I'm hoping one of the Defence Force boys will step up and chuck a pillow under the uniform."
Another hotel planned to set up a reindeer food station outside for the kids to feed them the night before Christmas. One will place stockings on hotel doors on Christmas morning. And others had arranged for local schools to send Christmas cards.
Returnees said they were in awe of MIQ staff, many of whom were giving up Christmas with their families to look after them.
"They cannot be given enough praise," said Mahaffie. "It is Kiwis at their absolute best. It's Christmas for them as well."
"I wish I could give them something," she added. "But anything I touch will be contaminated."
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