The government will ease coronavirus restrictions and legally allow up to three households to mix between December 23 and 27.
But while this law will not change, in most parts of the UK, the prime minister has substantially changed what he would like people to do.
“A smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas,” the prime minister told a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday. “Have yourselves a merry little Christmas — and, I’m afraid this year I do mean little.”
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, summarised the guidelines as: “Keep it small. Keep it short. Keep it local.”
Number of households
Johnson said while up to three households were allowed to mix legally as a “bubble”, “these are maximums and not targets to aim for”.
He said people should avoid staying away from home overnight if they can.
And the prime minister advised that people should consider delaying seeing elderly relatives entirely until they have been vaccinated.
In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said her “strong recommendation” was that people “stay within your own household and your own home”.
But in Wales, first minister Mark Drakeford asked that “only two” households should mix over Christmas rather than three.
And the Welsh government has gone further by moving to change the law to reduce the number of households who are allowed to mix to two households plus one single person household.
The prime minister has asked people to “reduce the number of people you are in contact with to the lowest possible” for five days before visiting others for Christmas.
He also said if “possible” people should avoid travelling from a high prevalence to a lower prevalence area.
Johnson said people should “think carefully” about avoiding crowds in the Boxing Day sales.
And he said “no one” should be gathering in large groups to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
The new guidance came after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove held talks involving the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Johnson has been under intense pressure to scrap or at least scale back the Christmas relaxation amid fears it will lead to a surge in cases, particularly given the experience in the US since Thanksgiving in November.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O), which advises he UK government, told ministers in November infections could “easily double during a few days of festive season”.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.