How Europeans are going to spend Christmas this year

Children look at a window display at store on Regent Street in London.

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LONDON — There’s one thing that most people are agreed upon as the festive season approaches and the coronavirus pandemic continues: Christmas is not going to feel the same this year.

Governments across Europe have been holding meetings in recent days to work out how they can allow families to get together at Christmas without risking a dreaded third spike in coronavirus cases. It comes as mini-lockdowns appear to be putting a cap on a second wave of infections that began after a summer of relaxed restrictions in the region.

From family “bubbles” to no fireworks, the U.K., France, Italy and now Germany have released further details of what will, and will not, be allowed this Christmas and New Year.

Scientists have warned a relaxation of critically important public health measures over the Christmas period could lead to greater transmission of the virus, and potentially further deaths.

Meanwhile, policymakers have sought to underscore the morale-boosting effect of allowing families and friends to meet after a difficult year. There are hopes that the holidays might be able to retain some merriment after all. Here’s what Europeans can expect at Christmas 2020:

The U.K.

The four nations that make up the U.K. (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) came to an agreement earlier this week to allow families across the kingdom to get together at Christmas, recognizing that separate policies could play havoc with families spread across Britain.

Publishing the rules on Tuesday, the U.K. government said that restrictions on social gathering will be relaxed between Dec. 23 and 27, allowing up to three households to form an “exclusive ‘Christmas bubble.'” Cue lots of rules about “bubbles” from the government, namely:

  • you can only be in one Christmas bubble
  • you cannot change your Christmas bubble
  • you can travel between tiers and U.K. nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble
  • you can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces
  • you cannot meet someone in a private dwelling who is not part of your household or Christmas bubble

Pedestrians walk past Christmas lights on Oxford Street in central London on November 17, 2020.

TOLGA AKMEN | AFP | Getty Images

In addition, you can only continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier where you are staying.

After a month-long lockdown is lifted on Dec. 2, England will return to a tiered system in which the severity of restrictions on social gatherings will be dictated by the infection rate in that area. In all tiers, from Dec. 2, non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, as well as gyms, hairdressers and churches. Whether pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to admit customers will depend on the tier they’re in.




Shoppers in the city center of Cologne, Germany, on November 21, 2020 as Christmas lights are seen.

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In the run up to Christmas (starting December 1) the number of people that can meet socially will be limited to five, but this will then be raised to 10 people over the Christmas and New Year period (Dec. 23 to Jan. 1) to allow friends and family to meet (children under 14 are exempt from the limit).

Germans are being encouraged to avoid contacts for seven days before Christmas to try to minimize the chance of infection.

New Year’s Eve could be a quieter affair in Germany this year, with the letting off of fireworks in public areas banned in “busy streets and squares.” Ski tourism has also been banned until at least January 10.

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