2020 has been far from festive, but as the year comes to an end, many of Europe’s governments are scrambling to avoid stringent lockdowns over the Christmas holidays.
The push to save the celebration comes despite the fact that other religious festivals — including Christian ones — have been marked in a muted fashion in recent months.
The UK government on Tuesday unveiled plans to temporarily relax coronavirus restrictions for five days, from December 23 to 27, allowing up to three households to celebrate together in “Christmas bubbles.” This means small groups of family and friends will be able meet in person for what may be the first time in months.
England is currently under its second national lockdown and the UK as a whole has recorded more than 1.5 million Covid-19 cases.
“This year, Christmas will be different,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Many of us are longing to spend time with family and friends, irrespective of our faith or background, and yet we cannot throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know that it’s Christmas.”
The previous day, Johnson cautioned that while the festive period may be “the season to be jolly … it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”
Rules relaxed for Christmas
The message that stricter autumn rules could lead to a more relaxed Christmas period has been repeated across Europe.
In France, a second national lockdown was imposed at the end of October, but despite non-essential businesses across the country being closed, the government has permitted the sale of Christmas trees, by decree.
The Champs-Elysees Avenue and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris with Christmas lights on November 22.
A slowdown in the spread of the virus means France’s lockdown will begin to ease this weekend, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday. The restrictions could be lifted further on December 15, if the daily number of cases drops under 5,000 and there are only 2,000-3,000 in hospital ICUs.
“We will therefore once again be able to travel without authorization, including between regions, and spend Christmas with our family,” Macron said.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged people to abide by the country’s Covid-19 restrictions in order to enjoy Christmas, in a speech earlier this autumn. but Italy has since struck a more cautious note.
Sandra Zampa, an undersecretary at Italy’s Ministry of Health, said on November 11 that the government wanted to avoid large Christmas parties. Instead, she said gatherings would likely be limited to close relatives such as parents, children and siblings. “I don’t think we can go any further,” Zampa said in a local television interview.
The Irish government is set to ease restrictions for nearly two weeks around the Christmas period and is considering allowing up to three households to gather for the holidays, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told state broadcaster RTE on Wednesday.
And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the public to obey social distancing restrictions in October, in order to preserve the country’s Christmas celebrations.
“We must do everything to ensure that the virus does not spread in an uncontrolled way. Every day now counts,” she said on October 17. “How the winter will be, how our Christmas will be, that will be decided in the coming days and weeks.”
German MPs are currently considering a draft proposal which would allow up to 10 people to celebrate Christmas and New Year together, CNN affiliate n-tv reported.
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