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What do Christmas bubbles mean for you? All your questions answered

Can I finally hug my family, or what?

Written by
Time Out London editors

An early advent calendar could have come in handy for counting down to this big government announcement. Yesterday (Tuesday November 24), the country waited with bated breath for UK leaders to confirm what ‘special dispensation’ for Christmas means, information that will allow friends and family to plan how they can get together for this year’s festivities. 

The new rules say that people can form a ‘Christmas bubble’ consisting of up to three households. The relaxed restrictions will last for five designated days and will extend across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. And it’s already causing a bit of confusion on your family WhatsApp group, right? Here are the answers to some festive FAQs:        

Which five days can we see our friends and family? 

The relaxed rules come into effect on Wednesday December 23 and will last until the end of Sunday December 27.  

How many people can I have in my Christmas bubble? 

There’s no limit on the number of people per bubble, but the new rule is that only up to three household bubbles can mix over Christmas. So, for example, you and your live-in partner could join your parents’ home – and Auntie could come round for turkey, too. The advice is to keep your bubble as small as possible.    

Can we stay overnight in a home different to our own? 

You can. You can stay in the home of anyone within your Christmas bubble. You can also stay in rented accommodation with people in your Christmas bubble during the period, but you can only stay in hotels with people in your household or support bubble.

Can I change my bubble during the five-day window? 

Unfortunately, you can’t fit in Friendsmas drinks on Christmas Eve followed by family Christmas Day dinner. Once you’ve bubbled up, you can’t change which households you interact with over the Christmas period. 

Can I hit the pub on Boxing Day with the whole Christmas bubble? 

This new three-way bubble will be restricted to interactions in private residences, places of worship and the great outdoors, alas.   

Can I move between tiers to join my Christmas bubble? 

Yes! The rules around travelling are set to be lifted for the five days, allowing people to move between tiers – and even nations. And those travelling to and from Northern Ireland can use Tuesday 22 and Monday 28 as extra travel days. More on that here

Do I need to isolate before seeing family this Christmas? 

There’s no strict guideline on this, but the government is advising you to reduce contact with people you do not live with two weeks prior to forming your new bubble, including working from home if you are able to. Those who are clinically vulnerable have been warned to make very careful decisions around their Christmas plans this year.   

What if I’ve been told to self-isolate?

Unfortunately, you’ll have to continue to do so. 

Can I meet my friends – within local tier rules – before bubbling up with my family? 

Absolutely. In the run-up to December 23, you can continue according to local tier rules. Between December 23 and 27, if you’re going to be bubbling up for Christmas, you’ll have to do all your extra-curricular socialising outdoors. 

And can I leave the bubble and then return to it – to go for a walk with a friend, for example? 

You can. But you’ve got to stick to those social distancing rules, and you can only meet in outdoor settings. No visits to individuals’ houses if they fall outside your festive bubble. 

Do I and those in my support bubble count as one of the three bubbles, or as two separate bubbles? 

Good news! Pre-existing support bubbles count as one of the three in your special household allowance.

Do students returning from University count as an individual bubble? 

Nope! Luckily, they can re-form one single bubble with the family household they return to for the holidays.

What about childcare bubbles? 

Those can continue to be used, but only if ‘reasonably necessary’, apparently. 

And what about co-parenting arrangements?  

Children under 18 are allowed to move between two household Christmas bubbles should their parents be separated.  

Do I have to spend Christmas with my current household bubble? 

Sick of your housemates after almost a year of this lark? Give yourself a well-earned break. You can each form separate Christmas bubbles – you might want to check with your partner first to avoid World War Three, though. 

How do I exit the bubble? 

The same way you went in. You should limit interactions two weeks after Christmas get-togethers, and take particular care cleaning surfaces and washing hands if returning to a household where you’ve been in different Christmas bubbles. 

And is it hugs all round? 

Once you’ve formed a bubble, anything goes! The government says you should keep houses ventilated and follow social-distancing guidelines and hygiene best practice. Consider carefully clinically vulnerable and elderly relatives, and if you’re making it a short stay, you might also want to consider keeping up the social distancing. But yes... you can hug people in your Christmas bubble!   

Yes... it’s a lot for the sake of one holiday. And here we were hoping Christmas bubbles meant copious amounts of supermarket champagne. But if it means a bit of normality after the weirdest year on record, we’ll take it.   

What’s the latest on tiers? Find out here

And read up on those all-important travel rules

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