“This is our first Christmas here and sadly it will be memorable for all the wrong reasons,” says Lori Kelley.
Lori, who lives in Mulazzo, Tuscany, had been planning on spending Christmas in the UK, celebrating with friends and joined by her grandson from the US. But those trips have been cancelled due to strict restrictions on overseas travel, as well as on crossing between regions and towns in Italy over the holidays.
“Due to lockdown we are completely isolated from friends,” Lori told The Local. “We will spend it alone, just me and my husband, and try to make the most of the day.”
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They won’t be the only international residents spending Christmas in Italy for the first time, and not exactly by choice.
The large majority of people who responded to our survey told us they were staying in Italy for the holidays, which for many means a break with tradition.
“This is our first Christmas away from our family. Normally we would travel to our family in Scotland. This year we are staying in Sardinia,” said Rachel Crossley, who admitted she was “not very enthusiastic” about the change of plan.
It’s not that the people who got in touch with us don’t like Italy, just that many foreign residents haven’t seen their loved ones in other countries since the coronavirus pandemic reached Italy the best part of a year ago. After months apart, giving up the usual Christmas trip feels especially hard.
“No Christmas in Ireland with my mother, who I haven't seen since February and who hasn't met my baby son,” said Carmel Crossan in Rome.
“But at least I have my partner and kids and I feel very lucky,” she continued, adding that she’d at least “tracked down most of the ingredients for a fairly Irish dinner for Christmas Day”.
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Having Italian in-laws helps soften the blow, said Rebekah Daunt in Brescia, who had hoped to visit her own family in Ireland for the first time in nearly a year but decided the risk was too great.
“My partner is Italian so I will spend Christmas with him and his family so I don’t mind, they are my second family and I feel so at home here… hopefully it will be safe to return to Ireland for a visit in the new year.”
But several people in Italy told us they aren’t able to join loved ones within the same country because of limits on domestic travel around Christmas, including a ban on travelling between regions from December 21st to January 6th.
David and Eleanor Berkley, who moved from the US three years ago to be closer to their daughter and her Italian husband, said they wouldn’t be able to leave their home in Umbria to visit their only two grandchildren in Tuscany, which makes them “very sad and unhappy”.
Even for those who are used to spending Christmas in Italy, the restrictions on travel – combined with a “strong recommendation” from the government not to invite guests over, 6pm closing time for bars and restaurants, and a nightly curfew – mean the celebrations will be smaller than usual.
“We can't celebrate with the large family in Rome. Maybe not even with the nonni,” said Lizette Pater in Pescasseroli, Abruzzo, who will be spending Christmas with only her immediate relatives.
Others will miss getting together with friends, especially fellow foreigners who haven’t gone back for the holidays.
“Last year we filled the house with everyone local and foreign that we knew and who didn’t have any plans. It was one of the best Christmases I have had as an adult,” says Rosalind Baker Santerelli in Sabina, Lazio, who’s spending Christmas in Italy this year for the second time.
“This year will be small for sure.”
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Even if big parties aren’t part of your usual holiday programme, 2020’s Covid Christmas means giving up other festive treats – like visits to Christmas markets (cancelled), ski trips in the Alps (closed until January), or a getaway to a second home (considered “non-essential” travel).
And for Brits, this year comes with an extra challenge: Brexit, which officially takes effect on January 1st and will make travelling between the UK and the EU more complicated.
“We had planned to rent a large house in Tuscany so we could be with family from both Italy and the UK, our last chance before the end of transition and before our UK-based family need to have an ETIAS and passport stamped as third-country nationals,” says Denise Abel in Norcia.
“We had to cancel. We would have been 12 people. Now we are spending Christmas just the two of us.”
Meanwhile Elizabeth Louise Arnold, who recently moved to the Puglia countryside from the UK to beat the Brexit deadline, said she was sad to miss out on celebrating with friends, but relieved to have made it to Italy before the transition period ends: “Christmas in our new home is a major milestone so the three of us (me, husband and the dog) will eat, drink and be merry!”
Indeed, we’re impressed by how many of you are looking on the bright side in an exceptionally dark year. Many people told us about things they were looking forward to about spending Christmas in Italy even under the circumstances, whether it’s the decorations in Rome, snow in the mountains, putting up a real tree or eating panettone for breakfast.
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If you’re struggling to get excited, we hope it helps to hear that others are in similar situations, and have made the same difficult choices.
Carrie Munera, who is on a posting to Friuli Venezia Giulia and had hoped to invite family from the US to join her this year, has given up on travel plans for herself or relatives. “I mean, come on, there could be worse places to spend Christmas or life itself but of course, with the limited time we have here living in Italy it hurts to miss a moment of travel,” she says.
“On the harder days I try to convince myself the most important of things is my family’s health and our commitment to keep our community safe.”
Whether you’re spending Christmas with family, friends, your partner, your pets or on Zoom, thank you to everyone who shared their plans with The Local. We read all of your responses and hope you have a safe, peaceful holiday – and that next year is a whole lot better.