Coronavirus: What’s allowed and what to avoid this Christmas

Government stresses ‘every contact counts’ as it outlines options available at Level 3

Advance booking for Mass, no sitting on Santa’s lap and off-peak shopping are among the Government suggestions for navigating Christmas safely as the country prepares to open up for a festive season like no other.

Speaking at a Government briefing on Monday, Liz Canavan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, reminded people that "every contact counts" when it comes to spreading Covid-19. "When meeting people over the period, there will always be an incidence of risk," she said.

With that in mind, here’s what we know about Christmas activities, and life under Level 3 in general.

Christmas at home

Unavoidably, people will come together as families over Christmas, and the Government has relaxed the guidelines on household visits, allowing two visiting households to another house, without a limit on numbers attending.


Within that context, people are being advised to:

  • Plan ahead on how you will spend Christmas day, keeping your guestlist short, and trying to limit your close contacts in the days and weeks beforehand
  • Guests should be encouraged to use hand sanitiser or wash their hands when arriving, while hugs, kissing and handshakes should be avoided, and crockery and glassware should be avoided, as should "buffet style" set-ups
  • Social distancing should be observed as much as possible, with extra distance between place settings where possible. People from the same household should also be seated together
  • People are being advised to wear a mask when cooking and serving food, and the amount of people in the kitchen should be limited
  • Ventilation is encouraged, with doors and windows to be kept open where possible, and people are being advised to get out for a walk or spend time in the fresh air

Visits to Santa

The Cabinet agreed to examine guidelines specifically drawn up for "seasonal events" such as this, and Ms Canavan indicated on Monday that specific advice on visiting Santa may be forthcoming, saying there had been dialogue with the chief medical officer on this. However, the basic ground rules are clear, she said, with an emphasis on outdoor activities and the usual protective measures, such as hand washing and social distancing. "I think it's self-evident that you won't be sitting on Santa's lap and those types of things," she said.

Christmas markets

Outdoor food markets have been open throughout Level 5, so there won’t be any changes there, as long as social distancing and crowd control measures are in place.

Religious services

Under an exemption to Level 3 rules, gatherings in churches and other places of worship are permitted for up to 50 people at a time. This is coming in on December 1st and will be reviewed in January. Where the size of a premises allows for more than 50 people, this is allowed so long as it can be divided into different sections with no more than 50 in each, and they are four metres apart at a minimum, with their own entrance and exit. Services should not exceed an hour, and there will be guidance published on choirs, chanting and congregational singing.

Face coverings should be worn, and no congregations should take place outside churches before or after services. Ms Canavan said on Monday that there will be demand for services over the Christmas period, and measures will be put in place to address overcrowding. These could include additional services, increased stewarding or the use of advance booking systems should be considered, she said.

“Depending on the churches and whether they’re concerned about demand, they’ll have online [options],” Ms Canavan said, but added that churches were also expected to make arrangements for their regular congregation who might not be online, and that the advice was “just to plan ahead”.

As under Level 5, funerals with mourners of up to 25 and weddings with guests of up to 25 are allowed.


People are being encouraged to shop during off-peak hours, when they can. Opening hours will be decided by retailers themselves, but the Government is advising that going off-peak will reduce crowds, as well as reducing the load on public transport, and making things easier for those who due to work or other commitments have to shop in peak hours.

Visits should be “fairly planned” with people not “meandering around for hours on end”, Ms Canavan said. “So just be kind of focused when you’re in the shops, and also I suppose mindful that people may be queuing to get in.”

Eating out

From Friday, indoor dining is permitted in restaurants and gastropubs. Meals must be prepared on site and inside the premises, with a maximum of six people per table. This includes access for non-residents to restaurants in hotels. Social distancing rules apply, with time limits relaxed when gaps of more than two metres between tables can be facilitated.

Cultural venues

Museums and galleries can open from Tuesday, as can cinemas when protective measures are in place, but no organised indoor events, such as theatre performances, training, conferences or business events can take place.

General advice

For sports, non-contact training in groups of up to 15 can take place, but only individual training can take place indoors – this includes gyms, where group exercise classes are not permitted. Matches except for professional and elite sports are not permitted. Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools are reopening.

Wet pubs remain closed except for takeaway services, while nightclubs, discos and casinos remain closed. Public transport is limited to 50 per cent capacity, so people are being urged to walk or cycle when possible. Household mixing is not permitted until the 18th, but two households can meet outside. Face coverings should be worn in crowded places, even outside.

People are being urged to think of the options available like a credit card limit – that they should be seen as a limit, not a target to be hit. “Being at a lower level of restriction means a greater onus on all of us to manage that risk, to consider it, and to do our very best to mitigate it,” Ms Canavan said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times