Can you spend Christmas with family and friends in Italy this year?

Can you spend Christmas with family and friends in Italy this year?
It will be a quieter Christmas than usual in Italy this year. Photo: Andrea Pattaro/AFP
With international travel discouraged over the holidays, many of us will be spending Christmas and New Year in Italy instead of visiting family elsewhere. Can we still celebrate?

Christmas and New Year celebrations in Italy traditionally revolve – of course – around a huge meal, or cenone, whether on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve or all three.

But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, will we be eating alone this year?

While some other countries have set a number on how many people you're allowed to invite to Christmas dinner, in Italy there's no fixed rule.

Previous rules urged us not to have more than six people over at a time, but in the latest decree that has been upped to a strong recommendation not to host any guests at home at all.

“In private homes, it is strongly recommended not to receive anyone you do not live with, except for work reasons or situations of necessity or urgency,” the decree states. 

In his press conference introducing the new rules, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte acknowledged that “we can't go into people's homes and impose stringent limitations” – in other words, the police won't come knocking if they hear the strains of Christmas carols coming from your apartment a bit too loudly.

Instead the government is relying on people's sense of civic duty and concern for older relatives. Caution is “essential”, Conte said, “not only for us but to protect our loved ones, especially parents and grandparents”.


Christmas shopping in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

If that appeal doesn't work, the government has also introduced various rules that make it harder to celebrate. 

Restrictions on international travel will be stepped up over the holidays, making it difficult if not impossible for loved ones to join you in Italy from overseas. Ski slopes will be closed and cruise ships barred from Italian ports.

Domestic travel will be limited too, not only within the higher-risk zones classed as red or orange under Italy's tier system, but between any region from December 21st to January 6th, and between towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year's Day.

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Unless you're officially resident in the same town or region in Italy as your friends and family, then, meeting up will be complicated – though Conte did say that people who usually split their time between two places, for example couples where one partner lives elsewhere for work, would be allowed to reunite.

Even if you're together, there won't be many places you can go: bars and restaurants are take-away only in orange and red zones, and even in yellow zones, where they're allowed to serve customers, they have to close at 6pm.

A big lunch might be an option – except that no more than four people from different households can share a table in a restaurant or bar (though you may be able to persuade them to give you separate tables next to each other).


Outdoor dining in Rome. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

In any case you'll have to be back indoors by 10pm, which is when Italy's nightly curfew – extended throughout the holidays – kicks in. Usually it runs until 5am, but to discourage New Year's Eve house parties it will be extended to 7am on January 1st.

Even churches will have to reschedule their traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve to the curfew-friendly time of 8pm.

All these restrictions should be enough to make clear that this isn't a year for usual celebrations.

Consider cancelling your cenone, or at the very least scaling it back. And if you do meet friends and relatives you don't share a house with, hold off hugging or kissing, keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

We know it's tough. But hopefully it will be, as Conte has said, a Christmas unlike others – because if we get it right this year, we won't have to do it again. 

How are your holiday plans different this year? Let us know here.


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