Rome: Christmas Eve in Rome, like in most other cities, normally involves a mad dash for last-minute presents, taking the kids into town to see the lights, and a festive catch-up with friends over an aperitivo or two.
This year it is none of those things. And although the usual Christmas Eve routine is familiar elsewhere, no other city in the world offers as magical a backdrop as Rome.
While not as strict as the spring lockdown, Italy’s latest covid-19 restrictions have put a serious dampener on the festive atmosphere in the Eternal City, causing further devastation to businesses, and heartbreak for separated families.
Rome’s Christmas markets, concerts and carol services have also fallen by the wayside, while those venturing out this Christmas need to carry a self-declaration form stating their “urgent or necessary” reason for being outdoors.
Perhaps by way of compensation, this year the capital went all out on its Christmas tree, as did the Vatican, and shopping streets such as Via del Corso and Via Condotti twinkle beautifully by night.
The capital’s Christmas religious services and Masses will still go ahead, although Midnight Mass has been moved forward by several hours to allow people to get home before Italy’s 22.00 curfew.
In a radical break from tradition, Pope Francis will not deliver his Urbi et Orbi address from the central balcony at St Peter’s and there will be no crowds in the piazza below on Christmas morning. The Vatican’s Christmas ceremonies will instead be streamed.
Acknowledging it will be “tough,” the pope proposes a more spiritual and less consumerist Christmas, while Italy’s premier Giuseppe Conte has said that “Christmas will be different but no less authentic.”
The restrictions limit domestic travel, which is difficult for many Italians, but spare a thought too for Italy’s foreign community, many of whom will spend a lonely Christmas indeed.
Difficulties aside, Christmas in Italy this year will – by necessity – centre around the home, with food playing a major role.
It is also a timely occasion to remember those who are no longer with us and to hope that next Christmas we can enjoy Rome to its fullest once more.