EXPLAINED: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

The German government and states have agreed to tighten Covid restrictions ahead of New Year's Eve, and have issued advice for Christmas. Here's what you need to know.

People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas.
People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In 2020, Germany had stricter lockdown measures in place over the festive season. Bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities had closed in November. Private gatherings were limited to a maximum of five people from two households – with an additional four close family members allowed over Christmas. New Year was also very quiet, with fireworks and big gatherings banned. 

In 2021 things are different in Germany, but there are still tough restrictions. Among them are nationwide 2G rules for most public places such as non-essential shops, culture and leisure facilities. It means only people with proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid can enter – what some politicians call a de facto ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees tougher Covid restrictions from December 28th

Here’s a look at the latest rules and advice.

Christmas 2021 – contact restrictions

The government has not ordered nationwide contact restrictions for vaccinated/recovered people for Christmas, but some states are choosing to bring these in in the coming days. 

Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for instance, say that private gatherings between vaccinated and recovered people are limited to 10 people (not including under 14s) from December 24th or Christmas Eve. 

Contact restrictions for people who choose not to get vaccinated are already in place and will continue. Unvaccinated people are allowed to meet with their own household and a max of two people from another household.

Other restrictions such as the 2G rule for access to public venues remain in place, and states/businesses can also choose to implement the 2G-plus rule (where vaccinated and recovered people have to show a negative test for entry). 

The German government has issued strong advice, urging people to celebrate Christmas in smaller groups. 

In their agreement reached on Tuesday December 21st, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 state leaders asked people in Germany “to celebrate responsibly during the Christmas holidays”.

They added: “The number of contacts at family celebrations should be limited, and the rules for keeping distance should be observed. The usual hygiene measures – wearing masks and regular ventilation – should also be in place.”

A sign for Covid testing in Wilhelmshaven. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

The government and states also call on people to take a Covid-19 test “before meeting family members and friends”, in particular when coming into contact with older people.

“This way Christmas can be celebrated together safely,” they said. 

Are restrictions being tightened?

Yes. As we mentioned above, some states are choosing to make restrictions tougher before Christmas, so keep an eye on the situation where you live. 

Nationwide, the federal and state governments have agreed that rules will become tougher from December 28th at the latest (so states must bring the rules in by this deadline). The aim is to target large New Year’s Eve parties to try and avoid an accelerated spread of Covid in view of the expected “explosive” Omicron wave.

By December 28th:

  • Nightclubs and dance venues will have to shut
  • In a bid to avoid large celebrations over New Year’s, just 10 people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to gather for private parties (excluding children up to 14-years-old)
  • Contact restrictions for unvaccinated people remain in place
  • Large organised events, like football games, will have to take place without spectators
  • As already decided by the government, the sale of fireworks is banned over New Year, and setting off fireworks is strongly discouraged to protect the health system and essential services
  • German authorities strongly advise that people take Covid tests before socialising 

What about vaccinations?

Germany is aiming to keep up the pace of giving out vaccinations and boosters over the holidays. 

The government and states thanked health care staff for their work and urged them to continue getting jabs into arms over the holidays.

In their agreement, the government said it wanted to provide a further 30 million vaccinations by the end of January 2022, with the aim to make access to vaccines “quick and easy”.

Authorities also want to expand vaccination services for children.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends booster shots after three months

Could restrictions be even tighter?

Yes. The agreement says that these restrictions are the “minimum standards” nationwide, but regions can choose to have extra rules or tighten existing ones. 

Some states already have harder lockdown measures in place, such as Saxony which has been badly hit in the fourth wave, with many intensive care units at full capacity. 

The government and states are set to meet again on January 7th. They will decide then on whether to bring in even more restrictions or to ease off. They will refer to the newly set up ‘council of experts’ ahead of the meeting.

It’s unlikely that there will be an emergency meeting during the holidays, but it of course depends on how the infection situation develops.

What about travel?

The government and states haven’t officially ordered people to limit travel. But there are already regulations in place for foreign travel. They were recently tightened for people coming from the UK where Omicron is widespread.

For travel within Germany, there’s the 3G rule for public transport, meaning people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested against Covid before they go on a bus, train or tram (test must be taken within 24 hours of travel).

READ ALSO: Should I travel within Germany or abroad during the holidays?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had called for tougher measures, including the closure of restaurants, bars and clubs, and an order for essential travel only, to be introduced “immediately”.

But the government and state leaders went against their calls. 

What else should I know?

The government and states are also calling on operators of critical infrastructures (like emergency services, public transport and other essential services) to “immediately review and adapt their respective operational pandemic plans and ensure that they can be activated at short notice”.

There are fears that when the Omicron wave hits, many people will have to take time off work at the same time, which could paralyse essential services. 

Will clubs and other businesses receive support?

Yes. The German government and states said they were extending the bridging aid (Überbrückungshilfe IV) for businesses affected by the restrictions. 

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Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

Germany's highest court ruled on Thursday that the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination rule for employees in health and care sectors is constitutional.

Germany's top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

From mid-March this year, health and care workers in Germany have had to prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently recovered. 

If they can’t provide this proof they face fines or even bans from working – however it is unclear how widely it has been enforced due to concerns over staff shortages. 

On Thursday the constitutional court rejected complaints against the partial vaccination mandate, saying the protection of vulnerable people outweighs any infringement of employees’ rights.

The law covers employees in hospitals as well as care homes, clinics, emergency services, doctors’ surgeries and facilities for people with disabilities. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid vaccine mandate for health staff

The court acknowledged that the law meant employees who don’t want to be vaccinated would have to deal with professional consequences or change their job – or even profession. 

However, the obligation to be vaccinated against Covid as a health or care worker is constitutionally justified and proportionate, according to the judges.

They said that’s because compulsory vaccination in this case is about protecting elderly and sick people. These groups are at increased risk of becoming infected by Covid-19 and are more likely to become seriously ill or die.

The protection of vulnerable groups is of “paramount importance”, the resolution states.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed Thursday’s ruling and thanked health care facilities who have already implemented the vaccine mandate. He said: “The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups”.

Course of the pandemic doesn’t change things

According to the ruling, the development of the pandemic in Germany is no reason to change course. 

The court based its decision on the assessment of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and medical societies, stating that it could still be assumed that a vaccination would protect against the Omicron variant.

It’s true that the protection of vaccines decreases over time, and most courses of disease are milder with the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, the institution-based vaccination obligation remains constitutional because, according to the experts, the higher risk for old and sick people has not fundamentally changed.

A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote held in April

MPs had been allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue rather than having to vote along party lines.